Debating funding for Childhood Cancer research, the future for elite sport with the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine and appearing on the Cannabis Health Podcast - weekly update 12/12/2020
This week I was pleased to introduce a petition to a Westminster Hall debate on better funding for research into childhood cancers. Children’s cancers represent just less than 2% of all UK cancers. Over 500 children die from cancer each year and it is the most common cause of death in children. The great news is that since the 1970s, mortality has decreased by around 70%, and even with the debilitating side effects of many treatments, that is testament to the achievements of research in saving our children. One caveat to those figures is the massive variation in survival rates by cancer type: 99% survival for retinoblastoma, contrasting with 0% for DIPG. Less than 21% of research funding on childhood cancers is provided by the Department of Health and Social Care, and there is little transparency on where the funding goes.
To change this situation, the petitioners want the National Institute for Health Research classification system to include specific cancer types and age data. They also ask for a commitment from the UK Government on ongoing funding obligations and for a set percentage of other funding to be ring-fenced for research on childhood cancers. We also need to look at reprioritising funding, to make sure that money is being used strategically for actual research—and that it is not spent on infrastructure, as happens at the moment. 2% of cancers and 500 children may seem relatively small numbers, but behind each of those numbers is a scared child in pain and a devastated family. Research is the only way we are going to move forward, and research needs funding. We are calling on the UK Government to ensure that funding is there and protected.
I was also pleased to speak in the English Health Secretary’s statement on the vaccine rollout. The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine is certainly welcome news for all of us and brings us some much-needed hope at the end of a nightmarish year for a better start to 2021. It is also incredibly exciting for next year’s sporting calendar, with events such as the Olympics and Paralympics in Japan, the Euros, the Lions tour to South Africa, and, of course, the Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Concerns have been raised with me about whether sporting competitions will be subject to compulsory vaccination, so I took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State whether any assessment had been made for elite sport and all other competitive sport of the possibility of compulsory vaccination. Unfortunately, no such assessment has yet been made, but I will keep pushing for news on this front.
I was delighted to be able to pop along to watch the women’s Welsh rugby squad train at the Vale this week and see the coaches and team plan for an exciting 2021 with the World Cup. It will be a fantastic opportunity to show the sporting talent that our small country has to offer and to show women the opportunities that are available to get involved in sport. We need women’s sport to be publicised and supported so that more women are encouraged to take part, even at grassroots level. Women are often the least likely to get involved in sports at community level for lots of reasons – responsibilities at home, making sure the kids get from home to school to after-school activities, perhaps shyness at exercising in public, and the popularity of and support for male sports teams. Everyone should get to enjoy sport and I was glad to show my support for the fantastic, inspiring Welsh women’s rugby team!
This week I was grateful to be invited to speak on the first episode of the Cannabis Health Podcast about my campaign work to ensure access to medical cannabis on the NHS. Throughout this campaign I have got to know and work with phenomenal parents who are fighting to get their severely ill children access to medical cannabis – the only drug that allows them some respite from their conditions. Thanks to their persistence, the law in the UK was changed in November 2018 to reclassify cannabis so that it was available for medical use. However, 2 years on and many parents are still fighting for access and having to travel abroad, at great cost to themselves and their families, to purchase the necessary drugs to improve the quality of their children’s lives. Everyone has the right to live their best life and I will continue pushing the UK Government to ensure that they can.
Also this week, I joined other members on the Welsh Affairs Committee to discuss youth employment and the Kickstart scheme in Wales. Employment is one of the most important ways out of the difficult situation we have found ourselves in and good quality, well-paid employment opportunities are the only way to build an economy that is more equal, and which supports all parts of our community. It is vital that we target youth employment so that the young are able to find their career path before long-term unemployment creates disappointment and despondency. Our youth deserve better life chances – they deserve to have those jobs waiting for them at the end of education that can motivate them and can show them that they can achieve wherever they are from.
I want to offer my congratulations this week to Dean Harris and the CanSense team at Swansea University for their success at the 2020 Media Wales Innovation Awards. Their Cancer Wales funded blood test will help transform diagnosis of bowel cancer, improving so many lives, allowing GPs to make informed decisions quickly, reducing the need for colonoscopies, speeding up the diagnostic process for those at greater risk and therefore reducing patient anxiety.
You can keep up to date with Welsh Government announcements and information on their dedicated coronavirus page. If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com or calling 01792 899025. My office is not open, my staff and I are working from home, but my email and phone are still being monitored and responded to. You may experience a slight delay in receiving a response from us as the demand has increased, but we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Keep well and remember – and remember - observe social distancing, wash your hands regularly and keep Wales safe!