Cancer Services (Essex)

10th May 2006

Brooks Newmark makes a speech in a debate on cancer services in Essex raising his concerns that proposed changes to the provision of cancer services are based on national requirements rather than local need.


3.27 pm

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) on securing the debate. It covers cancer services in Essex, as well as the proposed change. During the Opposition day debate on cancer services, the Health Secretary said that the decision on the future of cancer networks in Essex would be made locally. The emphasis on "locally" is what interests me. Do not my hon. Friends agree that the reason for the proposed change is the imposition of national requirements? One of the biggest challenges faced by my primary care trust in Braintree is the interference of central Government, often in the provision of services that really matter to my constituents.

Witham, Braintree and Halstead primary care trust has received a five-star rating for vital cancer services such as cervical screening. However, it received that rating for the local services that it provides, not because of national impositions. It is not only acute and specialised services that are important in effective treatment of cancer; the early detection and easy access to primary services are essential, too. That is why I emphasise that localism and local services are important.

Although the consultation said that the amalgamation would affect only a small number of complex surgical cases, what guarantees do we have that routine services will not be compromised by the proposed changes? Now that the Minister is in front of me, I should like to make a quick aside. People in my constituency are battling to secure the future of a new community hospital in Braintree, yet the Government still make strategic changes a priority over the improvement of basic local services. My constituents want a community hospital, they have been promised one by the Government, and they are still waiting for the Government to support that.

My genuine concern is about meeting local needs. In a press release, I read with interest that the strategic health authority on 29 March said:

"The board of Essex strategic health authority today agreed a recommendation to create a new cancer network"-

about which we heard earlier-

"covering south-east, south-west, mid and north-east Essex. It was one of four key decisions about cancer services made by board members".

The press release continues:

"Speaking after the meeting, Dr. Paul Watson-

the strategic health authority medical director-

said: 'The main aim in making these decisions is to ensure that Essex cancer patients have access to high quality services that meet national requirements'",

not local requirements. Local people want local services to meet local requirements. They do not want a national diktat.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), who has said that cancer survival rates in this country are worse than those in Albania. That is a shocking statistic. While we must acknowledge that more people are being diagnosed with cancer, waiting times for surgery and radiotherapy have been getting longer. That is of tremendous concern to me. How will the merger improve survival rates, diagnosis and early detection? Any restructuring should ideally be about such things.

I have always been supportive of the Schumpeter principle that small is beautiful. On the proposed merger of the cancer networks that co-ordinate treatment in south Essex and mid-Anglia, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East has said:

"It is important that south Essex keeps its cancer network as it is."

I agree with that.

Our shadow Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), said that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East has made a cogent case on behalf of south Essex MPs about the cancer network and the appropriate size of the South Essex cancer care centre, considering local conditions. He added that he hoped that people at both national and local decision-making levels have taken due account of that strong and well made case. In that context, I find it difficult to understand why the Government are pursuing a merger that is unpopular, unnecessary and likely to be ineffective in meeting local patients' needs.

3.32 pm


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