I could speak about so many aspects of the Bill—such as the U-turn on the social care cap, the lack of action to include health inequalities, allowing private healthcare providers to access our NHS and, frankly, whether a reorganisation of the NHS at this time of crisis is what we need to support all our healthcare workers—but I am sure that colleagues will more eloquently cover a lot of those points in their contributions. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, I will restrict my comments to the amendment on the NHS workforce tabled by the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt).
Staffing is the biggest challenge facing the NHS. The Prime Minister claims to be building 40 new hospitals; if that ever happens, they will be of no use to anyone if there are not the doctors, nurses, radiotherapists, pharmacists, porters, cleaners and other staff to look after patients. As we have already heard, the NHS had 100,000 vacancies before the pandemic started. That, coupled with the intense strain and burnout that staff have suffered over the past 18 months, is causing a crisis in staffing that needs bold action now.
The Budget was a missed opportunity to invest in the people who make the NHS great, but amendment 10 would go some way to rectifying that. According to research from Macmillan, it is estimated that we need an extra 3,371 cancer nurse specialists by 2030—that is a doubling of the number of cancer nurses in just over eight years if we are to have any chance of providing the care and support that patients deserve. Macmillan has worked out that it would cost £174 million to train and develop specialist cancer nurses to plug the gap. Any increase in funding would be passed on to devolved Governments through Barnett consequentials. In the grand scheme of things, £124 million in England, £31 million in Scotland, £12 million in Wales and £7 million in Northern Ireland is not too much to ask of the Government—it is probably in the region of the amount of money spent on security for the Prime Minister’s trip to Peppa Pig World at the weekend.
As chair of the all-party group on cancer, I would like to extend my thanks to the other all-party groups and their chairs for their support on this issue. We have been appalled by the stories that we have heard from people living with cancer and going through treatment. Twenty five per cent. of people diagnosed with cancer in the past two years have not had specialist nursing support. Laura from North Yorkshire is living with incurable secondary breast cancer. When she spoke at the Breast Cancer Now event, she said:
“Being told that I had incurable secondary breast cancer felt like going into the abyss. What I need most is emotional and psychological support, yet I still don’t have a specialist nurse. I’ve had to find my own way through the dark days.”
I would like to put on record my heartfelt thanks to the cancer workforce who are doing all they can at this moment. They are crucial to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The shortages in the workforce have had a devastating effect on outcomes. People are now being diagnosed through visits to A&E with later stages of cancer, the consequences of which do not bear thinking about. The mental and physical health of the cancer workforce is suffering, too; they are at breaking point.
I have accompanied nurses to Downing Street to deliver a petition calling for the cancer workforce fund. I have spent time with Miriam Dibba Demba, a specialist gynaecology, oncology clinical nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and Eamon O’Reilly, a Macmillan lead nurse for cancer and chemotherapy at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. That is when we know that something has to change for the future, because the care and support that cancer nurses provide has been a lifeline for so many living with cancer. I urge the Government to put in place the funding to ensure that this essential support can continue.