John McDonnell MP
There is a tradition in the House that people say it is an honour to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken. Usually, most of us do not mean it, but it really was a privilege to be in the Chamber to hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Some Members may not have got the subtleties with regard to Margaret. Margaret is not someone who will take no for an answer. In fact, you are lucky if you are still standing when you have said no to Margaret on many issues—I want to make that absolutely clear. We all send Margaret our love and wish her the very best. I thank my hon. Friend for sharing that, as I know how difficult it was.
We are all coming to the debate with different experiences. I want to thank a lady called Sonya Kean, who approached me some time ago to ask whether I would involve myself in campaigning for brain tumour research funding. Sonya has a son called Conall who suffers from brain tumours. It really brought home to me the distress that this illness causes for the sufferer and for the whole family, but also the incredible courage and fortitude that families display when they have to rise to the challenge and cope with seeking treatment and supporting the family member.
My experience with Sonya and others is that there is a real struggle to be heard at times. There is a struggle in access to treatment but also to find support for some basics. One example is time off for family members when they are taking another member for treatment, and financial support is another. The financial impact can be quite devastating on a family. That relates to the inadequacy of the welfare benefits system, particularly support for carers and carers allowance, to follow on from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said.
What comes across is how wonderful the support and treatment is from incredibly dedicated, devoted, caring and hardworking doctors, nurses, oncologists and others.
Paul Mulholland has been mentioned time and again by a number of people, as an example of the standard of care that everyone should receive throughout the NHS. I want to profoundly thank Sonya, Conall and the family, and all the staff and professionals who have been working so hard. I also thank the chair of the APPG, the hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and all its members. We have hundreds of APPGs but that is possibly one of the most effective. As a result of its diligent commitment, we have in front of us an extremely professional report that the Government now can use as the guide and agenda for their work. I thank the APPG for all that it has done.
I will not go through all the points that have been made, but there are some fundamental steps that need taking. We have been having a debate for some time around these particular areas of work. The reality is that all the health imperatives require a foundation of funding—conditional funding, I accept that. Last year we debated cancer treatments overall, and the figures are worth getting on the record. Nearly £150 million has been spent on breast cancer research; £130 million on leukaemia research; £130 million on prostate cancer research; £24 million on brain tumour research. The issue today is not just the allocation of funds but access to funds. The report very succinctly but effectively demonstrates what barriers exist and how they could be overcome.
The sufferers and families I have met are at a loss as to why the money that has already been allocated has not really reached the frontline of research. The report gives reasons for that, but it also demonstrates how the hurdles could be overcome relatively easily. It is about ensuring an element of co-ordination. I was shocked to read on page 12 that a number of researchers are simply moving away from research in the field, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central and others have mentioned, because they cannot overcome the hurdles in access to funding support.
The next step, as the report mentions, is to address the profound need for leadership. The appeal for a champion who sits across the two key Departments—the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—is fundamental. We need someone who can bring everything together dynamically and drive the report’s agenda. Frankly, there are plenty of ex-Ministers on the Government Back Benches with enough experience to drive that agenda effectively.
One of the first steps, exactly as the chair of the all-party group says, is to have a ministerial meeting to go through the agenda with members of the all-party group and work with the appointed champion to chase the progress of its implementation. There have been too many reports on different conditions that have been well received but largely shelved because there has been no drive. The APPG has demonstrated that it can work effectively to produce a report, and I think it could work hand in glove with the new champion to ensure that the agenda is implemented effectively. It could happen relatively quickly: we could have an announcement within a fortnight, we could get the new champion in place, the APPG could meet that person and the Minister, and we would then have some drive.
The report makes a recommendation to look at the US system whereby reports are regularly submitted to Congress—in this country it would be this House—on the implementation of the agenda. I may have got this wrong, but I believe that the APPG report includes an element of legislative enforcement so a statutory duty is placed on all those participating.
Another point is about the co-ordination of the different groups, which the APPG seems to have brought together. Not only has it received information and evidence from the individual research bodies, but a discussion has clearly taken place with the pharmaceutical industry. The APPG has almost been like a summit meeting for the different agencies. Trying to formalise that in some form would be really helpful.
On pharmaceutical companies, I want to make a point that might sound discordant but is not. The report makes a recommendation about tax reliefs for pharmaceutical companies. Having looked at tax reliefs in other areas, I am not confident in the role that they have played. The argument is that they will attract venture capital towards the research and development of various drugs and treatments. I am not convinced about tax reliefs, however; I think it is better to award conditional grants, which I think are much more effective. My own view, for which I have been arguing for some time—I have to throw this in—is that we should have a state-run and owned pharmaceutical company so that we can have stable investment, rather than just investment driven by short-term profit.
What I see as the key element in the report, for which I am really grateful to the APPG, is the immediate review of the speed of decision making on the award and allocation of funding for research. That is critical. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden says, it is also about the speed of access to treatment. People with nine months do not have time to wait for the decision-making processes that we have at the moment, which are literally costing people’s lives. We desperately need to speed up the overall process, and the report lays the foundations for that. I also agree with the report about the ringfencing of funding for research into child brain tumours: it is a tragically neglected area and so many people suffer as a result.
The report says, rightly in my view, that many brain tumour patients and their families are feeling let down by a lack of leadership and drive from the Government. When we explain to people in our constituencies that this is the biggest killer among the under-40s, they begin to wake up and ask why it is happening. Well, I do not want to be here in a year’s time for another debate like this, and another report from the APPG, and to hear that it is still happening because the current report has not been implemented in full. I urge the Government to meet the APPG, establish a champion and start work on this agenda in the next couple of weeks. If they do so, we may be able to turn this around, and perhaps prevent more tragedies such as those that many of our constituents have experienced in recent years.