Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund

  Issues raised during the discussion on 16 January.

The National Cancer Plan

  Although the introduction of the Plan and its direction are undoubtedly welcome it is largely concerned with cancer care and services. Cancer research is ignored on the whole. A National Cancer Act may well help focus the Government's mind on research. During our evidence session we discussed the problem of a lack of cancer clinicians. We talked about the problems at the Beatson Institute and Oncology Centre, where they lost four consultant oncologists in the space of four weeks, and we also touched on the need for an adequate training scheme to generate research oriented clinicians.

  To achieve this would require a more flexible approach from the Royal Colleges in their formal professional training schemes, to recognise the importance of research training and to allow time for it. Greater remuneration and protection from the pressures of the routine NHS workload would also help. If we are to seriously improve treatment standards and increase cure rates we must overcome the difficulty of generating and retaining research-active clinicians. Across the UK's medical schools one in seven clinical chairs remain unfilled and this problem must be addressed.

  The National Cancer Plan is therefore a welcome focus on the disease but a clearer, more research-led approach must be taken if we are to impact on cancer survival rates in this country.

National Cancer Research Institute

  We welcomed the introduction of this virtual institute and are very pleased with its progress to date. Its prostate cancer initiative was funded mainly by Cancer Research UK but did have major contributions from the MRC and Government.

  All of the major funders are members and the devolved governments and pharmaceutical companies are also beginning to play an active role. The benefits of having a "bricks and mortar" institute are unclear. We do not feel that it makes much sense to house the NCRI in a physical centre when the money can be better spent on research.

  The NCRI has the framework to realise the possibility of fast-tracking research findings into the health service. The Department of Health should take note of this fast-tracking and look to increase funding. We are very positive about the NCRI's ability to bring the various funders together to contribute to truly joint activities across the country.

National Cancer Research Networks

  Although the National Cancer Research Networks have not made much difference yet they have the potential to be a major force for getting patients onto clinical trials and improving survival rates. The target of doubling the number of patients entering clinical trials is demanding and it will be a matter of time before we can see if this is achievable or the funding sufficient.

  It is very encouraging to see the Department of Health sharing some of the infrastructure costs of carrying out clinical trials and we look forward to seeing the financial burden on Cancer Research UK being ceased. As these centres establish themselves we would look to the Government to increase their spend three or fourfold within the next few years.

  We know network systems work because we have tested it in Wales. We have split the cost of setting up a Welsh Cancer Trials Network equally with the Welsh Assembly. In Wales the number of patients in clinical trials has doubled in three years. The Welsh Assembly and our organisation have both agreed to double again our funding of the network, as it has been so successful. We look forward to the English networks replicating such success.

Cancer Registries and Data Protection

  The issue of cancer registration remains a major concern. There is a strong case for legislation to make cancer a statutorily reportable disease in the UK. This would remove ambiguity about the legal status of cancer registration caused by the professional guidance issued to all doctors by the General Medical Council. Such legislation could be included in a National Cancer Act.

  The national cancer registration system is the basis of many research projects that have had a direct impact on patients. It provides invaluable information about cancer incidence, survival and mortality derived from all patients diagnosed and registered with cancer and should be protected.

  For a detailed appraisal of cancer registration and data protection we would refer the Committee to expert opinion such as Professor Michel Coleman who is an adviser to your group.

Government matching cancer research spending £ for £

  We welcome your focus on Government spend on cancer research and urge greater transparency with their accounting.

  A way of ensuring clarity would be to have any spend on cancer research channelled through a National Cancer Act directly to the National Cancer Research Institute. The Government should be looking at closer interactions with Cancer Research UK, as we are experts in the cancer research field.

National Institute for Clinical Excellence

  Although NICE has gone some way to clear the backlog of cancer drugs and treatments they are still not performing to our expectations or standards.

  We have submitted evidence from Cancer Research Campaign-funded oncologists to a review of NICE pointing out the unacceptable amount of time taken to instigate and carry out investigations into new drugs. We have also questioned the total lack of cancer experts on NICE committees. We do not feel that their peer-review process is anywhere near robust enough.

  The Science and Technology Committee's original report into cancer research was a welcome focus on the issues and its recommendations were informed and productive. I hope this update will be equally successful.

Professor Gordon Mcvie

Director General

The Cancer Research Campaign

31 January 2002

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