I of course sympathise profoundly with anyone who has been affected by breast cancer and I pay tribute to Breast Cancer Care for the vital work it does in providing care, information and support to patients and their families. Despite the considerable progress that has been made on improving cancer services, we still lag behind other countries and there is worrying evidence that progress has stalled, or potentially even gone backwards.
The cancer strategy contains recommendations that could go a long way towards helping people living with secondary breast cancer. It places a significant emphasis on the importance of Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) and their role in providing information, enabling communication and coordinating care. The strategy raises concerns about the shortage of CNSs and it contains a specific recommendation that all patients should have access to a CNS or other key worker from diagnosis onwards.
Having an efficient cancer workforce is crucial to improving cancer care and staff should be suitably equipped to diagnose, support and care for cancer patients both during and beyond cancer. If the workforce has the time, resources and support they need, then the recommendations in the cancer strategy will be achieved. I know that this is something the cancer workforce plan, published in December last year, aimed to address.
I welcome that the Government has accepted all 96 of the cancer strategy’s recommendations. However, I am concerned that progress has stalled, and I believe Ministers should publish a detailed update against these recommendations as soon as possible. More widely, the sustained underfunding of our NHS has pushed our health service to the brink and it is patients who are paying the price. The Government has repeatedly missed the cancer waiting time target and there are almost 100,000 staff vacancies across our health service.
I will press Ministers to bring forward a sustainable plan for our NHS so that it can deliver the standards of care patients deserve and ensure that the recommendations in the cancer strategy can be achieved.