Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (September 2023) provides an important opportunity to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancers affecting children and young people. Greater awareness of symptoms, as well as faster referral of suspected childhood cancers are crucial to ensure that more children and young people can be diagnosed quicker.
I know that the NHS has committed to meeting the Faster Diagnosis Standard so that by 2024, 75 per cent of patients who are urgently referred by their GP for suspected cancer either have a diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within 28 days. The NHS is also prioritising the goal of meeting the early diagnosis ambition, so that 75 per cent of cancers are diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 by 2028.
Understanding the experience of children and young people with cancer is crucial for being able to improve their cancer treatment and care. It is positive to see that the first Under-16 Cancer Patient Experience Survey was published by NHS England in October 2021, following the campaigning of charities such as Young Lives vs Cancer and Teenage Cancer Trust. The results of the 2021 Under-16 CPES have recently been published and you can find more details here: https://www.under16cancerexperiencesurvey.co.uk/visual-summaries
Tackling major conditions that cause ill-health - including cancer - provides an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people. A Major Conditions Strategy will be developed and published over the next year to outline how outcomes in six major condition areas will be improved, including cancer. A call for evidence has recently concluded and I understand that the strategy will be published in due course.
The Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) at the University of Birmingham translates cutting edge science into improved patient care, both rapidly and safely, through the design and conduct of large multi-centre and international randomised trials as well as smaller more data intensive phase I trials of novel therapies.
The Children’s Cancer Trials Team is a part of CRCTU, and works with early stage and late stage trials. Alongside work in the Long Term Plan to offer all children with cancer whole genome sequencing to enable more comprehensive and precise diagnosis, and access to more personalised treatments, which will support increased access to clinical trials, as well as reduce the number of young patients who experience lifelong health problems caused by high doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
It is positive to hear that NHS England and NHS Improvement have published a service specification setting out the functions and requirements of principal treatment centres and the Children’s Cancer Operational Delivery Networks. This will enable services to improve and widen access to psychological support, clinical trials and tumour banking. The National Health Service now offers all children and young people with cancer whole genome sequencing to allow more comprehensive and precise diagnosis and access to personalised treatments.
The UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to Ukraine and has allocated £220 million to support the humanitarian response in the country.
Millions of items of medical supplies have been supplied to the region, including wound care packs, equipment for intensive care and key medicines. The UK has been working closely with Ukrainian officials to deliver targeted support to ensure medical items are reaching the people who need them most.
I know that hospitals in Poland have taken in many children needing healthcare who have arrived from Ukraine. With more children crossing the border requiring immediate treatment, I am so glad that the UK responded to Poland’s call for support to provide additional care.
The UK partnered with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a non-profit American organisation specialising in paediatric care, to arrange an urgent flight for the children. They have undergone assessments to understand their specific health needs, before getting treatment at an appropriate hospital.
I am hugely grateful to our NHS staff as well as our partners, including our Polish friends, for their support in bringing these children to the UK. I know that the Government will continue to do all it can to support them as they continue their critical treatment here.
Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer that has devastating effects on the children and young people affected, and I greatly sympathise both with the challenges families face in caring for loved ones and the lack of treatment available to increase survival and quality of life.
More broadly, I welcome that my colleague – Lord James O’Shaughnessy – has been asked to carry out an independent review into the UK commercial clinical trials landscape. This provides an opportunity to increase the recruitment to commercial clinical trials and reduce barriers to conducting such trials in the UK. Lord O’Shaughnessy’s advice to Government was published in May 2023 and includes recommendations of priority actions to make progress through the rest of this year.