It was my honour to set up and be elected to chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer in June 2016.
In this role I’ve worked closely with charities including Blood Cancer UK, and liaised with medical professionals, Government ministers as well as patients and their support groups. This is a personal issue for me and one which has affected my own family and others in Crawley, I’m grateful to local residents who have shared their own experiences with me.
In January 2018 our Group launched its first report, entitled ‘The ‘Hidden’ Cancer: The Need to Improve Blood Cancer Care’. This coincided with a debate in Westminster Hall which I secured for the same day, on the issue of blood cancer care in the NHS.
The report makes a number of recommendations including that GPs should immediately request a blood test for anyone presenting with one or more symptoms of blood cancer. These can be vague, with patients often reporting general fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, or bruising, all of which can be mistaken for other, less serious conditions such as being run down or flu.
Blood cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and this country’s third biggest cancer killer. There are currently an estimated 240,000 people in the UK living with blood cancers, which include leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
Research from Blood Cancer UK, who also provide secretariat support for the Group, has shown that public awareness of blood cancer is low and that patients often feel isolated and believe these cancers are seen as ‘separate’ from other cancers.
This is a cause I’ve raised at Prime Minister’s Questions, and one which I’m continuing to pursue. In November 2018, I secured and led a House of Commons debate where I called for improvements in support for issues affecting blood cancer patients including access to treatments, mental health provision and GP services.
In January 2019, following the publication of the NHS Long-Term Plan, I questioned the Health & Social Care Secretary about the importance of continuing to work with charities and the wider voluntary sector to deliver improved outcomes for patients.
In October 2019 the Group launched its latest inquiry looking into genomic medicine in blood cancer. This is to investigate the promises and challenges and what needs to happen in order to ensure maximum benefits are realised to those affected.
In the Queen’s Speech debate in the same month, I welcomed the Government’s commitment to ensure that 75 per cent of cancers are diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 by 2028, and highlighted how blood cancer is different to solid tumour cancers, and is much more difficult to detect.
In January 2020 in a debate on the Government’s NHS Funding Bill I spoke about my work as APPG Chair and how genomics can deliver benefits to people with blood cancer.
Throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic I made representations to the highest levels of Government to stand up for blood cancer patients. I continued to call on Government to ensure that the NHS addresses the Covid-induced cancer backlog.
Having chaired the APPG since I founded it in 2016, in May 2022 I took the decision to step down from this role. I am proud to be a Vice Chair of the Group, and will continue to highlight the concerns of people with blood cancer in Parliament.