Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Is the Secretary of State convinced that the NHS has yet got the balance right between surgical and chemical or radiotherapy cancer treatments? Is he aware that this country has pioneered the microsurgical treatment of cancer, which increased survival rates and reduced the complications and indignities suffered by patients when it was adopted and disseminated abroad? Why is not more effort being put into disseminating those skills throughout the NHS?

    Mr. Milburn: With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, a big effort is being made to ensure that not only chemotherapy and improved radiography services and so on are available, but that more surgical options are available to cancer patients. As he is aware, during the past year or so, we have made great strides in ensuring that, although all the problems have not been solved, there is at least progress on the waiting times that cancer patients have to endure for initial outpatient appointments. We set a target for patients to be seen within a fortnight. Thankfully, about 100,000 women with suspected breast cancer have now been seen within a matter of weeks, rather than months, which was the situation previously, and they go on to a variety of treatments, including surgery.

    The right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we must get the balance right, but to do so we must ensure that the investment is sustained. If he is as concerned as he says he is about those issues, he might have a word with his colleagues on the Conservative Front Bench to remind them that matching Labour?s health funding for the NHS is an important priority for his party.

    Supplementary Oral Question: 10th April 2001 (Ref: 366 c834)