Child Cancer Debate [29/11/2016]

Ronnie Cowan MP

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate as we continue the fight against childhood cancer. I am aware that the petition, which is the subject of today’s debate, is primarily written with reference to the NHS in England. As a Scottish MP, Members will forgive me for using the debate as a chance to highlight some of the local champions in my constituency who have done so much to help raise awareness of childhood cancer. Whether we are in Scotland or England, and regardless of our party affiliation, I hope all Members can come together to provide constructive suggestions for the UK Government. I hope too that the Minister is receptive to those suggestions in the spirit in which they are given.

We know that childhood cancer is relatively rare, yet in Scotland around 150 children are diagnosed every year.

Stuart Donaldson MP (Intervention)

My constituent Sam Dorrance was five years old when he lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sam’s brother, Ethan, who has raised £10,000 for CLIC Sargent, and also Sam’s family and friends who have raised more than £65,000 for Super Sam’s fund for research into high-grade brain tumours?

Ronnie Cowan MP

Absolutely. I had the privilege of meeting the family when they were here for the British Red Cross event a couple of weeks ago. They are an inspiration and an example to us all.

The 150 individual cases that I mentioned means 150 new families having to deal with the devastating consequences of illness every year. It is not only the health aspect of cancer that families must overcome, but the immense emotional and financial turmoil that the diagnosis can bring. Many parents will face extreme pressure on their relationship, in some instances leading to a breakdown of the family unit. Others will be forced to give up work. Combined with the additional costs of caring for a seriously ill child, it may mean that the family is pushed into poverty.

At this point, I want to address the Minister. In the Government’s response to the e-petition, they say that children and teenagers with serious or critical illness such as cancer are also expected to apply for disability living allowance or personal independent payment. Is there some way we could have a simple process whereby a diagnosis becomes a tick in a box so that people do not have to apply for PIP or DLA? It should be a given that they need financial support. We know that and we should take one of those burdens off them.

Along with the child and the parents, siblings too will experience disruption in their own lives, including educational difficulties. Although we are able to quantify that there are 150 new cases in Scotland every year, we can never quantify the wide-ranging implications. It is encouraging that survival rates are improving, but I am sure we can all agree that we can always do more.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government are absolutely committed to providing the best possible care for children and young people with life-threatening illnesses in Scotland. I trust that different NHS bodies north and south of the border have a mechanism whereby they can share best practice on childhood cancer. Perhaps the Minister will outline whether that is indeed the case. Let us not stop at sharing best practice north and south of the border: we need pan-European, and in fact global, co-operation. It would be appalling to think that good substantial research anywhere in the world was not shared so that everybody could benefit from it.

In my constituency of Inverclyde, we have a champion who is helping to raise awareness of childhood cancer. Nathan Mowat was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia shortly before his fourth birthday. Since then he has endured hours of chemotherapy treatment and will need at least a further year of maintenance treatment. Chemotherapy can have a harsh effect on the human body. In Nathan’s case, it means that even a minor illness can now have serious ramifications for his health.

Nathan, with the support of his mum Gillian, his dad Paul and his sister Annabel, has managed to rally a huge amount of support within Inverclyde. In September, the Greenock Telegraph, Greenock Morton football club and a range of prominent local businesses and organisations pledged to glow gold and help Nathan raise awareness of childhood cancer. Glow gold was a great success, not only because it rallied community support, but because it made more people aware of the practical issues that people face as a result of childhood cancer. Whether in respect of bereavement, research, diagnosis or resources, we need an open discussion on how we can continue to improve our approach.

Finally, I thank Nathan for all his great work in Inverclyde. I look forward to seeing him fully overcome his illness. He will continue to inspire many people, and I am sure my parliamentary colleagues will join me in wishing him and his family the best for the future.