Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Beating Bowel Cancer

Last week I was able to secure a debate a debate on Bowel Cancer screening. Bowel cancer is the second-highest killer behind lung cancer, and it's a subject I am passionate about. I have included my opening speech below and you can read the whole debate HERE

Or you can watch the debate online HERE

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter in the House. Bowel cancer affects men and women, and it is the second-highest killer after lung cancer. The debate is, I suggest, both timely and genuinely needed.

I have personal experience of the NHS that is probably too long to list. When I was a jockey, I was saved by a gastro-surgeon at Warwick hospital. I hoped I was riding the winner at Stratford races, but we turned over and the horse ruptured my spleen, perforated my left kidney and broke nine bones in my ribs. I can assure the House that it hurt a great deal. The surgeon saved my life on that occasion. Subsequently, it is well known that I had a meningioma in April and was recently given the all clear by Mr Neil Kitchen and the amazing staff at Queen Square hospital in north London.

My grandmother was an NHS matron and I have had bowel cancer screening. Certain family members have had this cancer, so I had the colonoscopy that was medically advised in those circumstances. I would certainly not be an MP were it not for the campaigns I waged on behalf of Savernake hospital in Wiltshire, where I was born; that hospital also saved my mum’s life.
I would like to declare an interest as a taxpayer. The NHS’s approach to individual screening is surely an issue in which we should all be interested—from the point of view of prevention of loss of life and the maintenance of good health, but also in respect of how NHS funding, which is clearly finite, is spent on preventing future problems.

I pay tribute to the Beating Bowel Cancer regime, to Cancer Research UK, to the British Society of Gastroenterology, and to Professor Wendy Atkin, her funders and the 170,000 volunteers who took part in her definitive study of flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is known as a flexi-scope. I also pay tribute to Imperial College London, University College London, the University of East Anglia and St Mark’s hospital, and to the variety of doctors, constituents, charities and members of the public who have worked so hard to combat this problem and have helped me to prepare for the debate—including the clinicians, particularly Dr Colin Rees.

As a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in the north-east, I am proud to say that the north-east leads the way in bowel cancer screening. It was the first to complete coverage of an entire region in April 2010.

Before I embark on the substance of my argument, I also make an apology on behalf of my hon. Friend Nadhim Zahawi, who sponsored the Beating Bowel Cancer reception in the House last year. Much to his regret, he cannot be here tonight. He is a good friend of mine, but he is well known in the House—and, indeed, throughout the world—for having worn the Beating Bowel Cancer tie, which I am now wearing, in the Chamber after that reception. My hon. Friend, who has quite a generous build, was attempting to restrain that generous build with his suit when he accidentally touched a button on the tie, setting off a melody that lasted for nearly two minutes. Madam Deputy Speaker virtually extracted him from the Chamber. I understand that the incident was reported in 25 countries, and did more for the screening of bowel cancer worldwide than anything that anyone has said since. I have no future as a surgeon, and I assure the House that I have removed the bottom half of my own tie so that there is no possibility of my being extracted from the Chamber for being too musical.

Let me now make some serious points about the clinical position. Traditional bowel cancer screening involves the faecal occult blood test, known as the FOB. In the last few years 11 million people in the country have been offered the test, 6 million have accepted it, 120,000 scopes have followed, and 12,000 diagnostic findings of cancer have resulted. It is clear from the statistics that lives have been saved. Previously those screened were aged between 60 and 69, but screening has now been extended to those aged between 60 and 74. It should be noted that the north-east—leading the way, as it does so often in a medical context—was the first region to extend the age group.

Tragically, take-up of that vital free NHS screening is only 54%, whereas take-up of breast cancer screening is 74% and take-up of cervical cancer screening is 79%. However, the situation is changing. Professor Wendy Atkin and her team have brought flexible sigmoidoscopy to the forefront of bowel cancer screening. The results of their 16-year study were definitive. Their randomised trial, which followed 170,432 people, established that the flexi-scope examination reduces the incidence of bowel cancer in those aged between 55 and 64 by a third. Mortality was 43% lower among that group than it was in members of the control group.

The flexi-scope test works by detecting and removing growths on the bowel wall, known as polyps, which can become cancerous if left untreated. It can prevent cancer from developing by removing polyps before they become cancerous, and provides long-lasting protection from bowel cancer.