I sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by cancer and I pay tribute to Breast Cancer Now (BCN) for the vital work it does in funding research, championing improved access to medicines, and providing support to patients and their families.
We should set an ambition for the NHS to have the best cancer survival rates in Europe. Key to this will be improving early diagnosis, public awareness and uptake and access to screening programmes, as well as ensuring that GPs have the training, resources and support they need to identify symptoms and refer patients quickly.
The report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer, published in February, highlights significant variations in uptake of breast cancer screening, access to medicines and services, and mortality rates across the country. The report makes three recommendations: to ensure there are enough healthcare professionals to deliver high-quality and timely diagnosis, treatment and care; to improve consistency and accountability of cancer services; and to improve the use of data across NHS bodies.
I am disappointed that the government has repeatedly missed the national cancer target for two years. Waiting lists have topped 4 million, the number of patients spending more than four hours in A&E has risen 250 per cent and the Royal College of Nursing has warned of a 40,000 shortfall of nursing staff.
Across England, 23 Cancer Alliances have been tasked with implementing the cancer workforce plan, to transform diagnosis and treatment in local areas. Breast Cancer Now has recognised the opportunity these alliances present to tackle significant regional variations and I will follow developments in this area closely.
At the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to invest an additional £38 billion in the NHS to give patients the modern, well-resourced health services they need. The manifesto also committed to address the growing problem of rationing of services and medicines across England and to ensure that the quality of care patients receive does not depend on which part of the country they live in.
The government should carefully consider the report of the APPG on Breast Cancer and ensures that all patients with cancer receive the best possible care and support.