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Sophie’s Journey inspires new cancer plans

LOCAL MP, Dame Caroline Dinenage, has welcomed the Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid’s declaration of a “war on cancer” and the launch of a call for evidence to underpin an ambitious 10-Year Cancer Plan for England; coming just two days after a question to the Prime Minister on the subject in the Commons earlier in the week in the build-up to World Cancer Day on Friday, February 4.

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQS)

In the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Caroline raised the story of Sophie Fairall from Stubbington, who lost her life to cancer in September at the age of ten years old. Standing up in the Commons after Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer had finished quizzing Mr Johnson, the Gosport MP asked the PM to advocate further support and better training to identify child cancer.

She asked: “Sophie Fairall was just 10 years old when she died in September. Childhood cancer is often described as rare, yet cancer is the biggest killer of children under 14. Sophie’s GP failed to diagnose her cancer, and it was only when she went to A&E that they discovered the tumour in her little body that was 12 cm long. On World Cancer Day on Friday, I would like to ask the Prime Minister to please advocate for more and better training for general practice to identify cancer in children.

In response the Prime Minister answered: “I thank my hon. Friend. I am very sorry to hear of Sophie’s case, and my thoughts are with her family and her friends. She is right that research is crucial in tackling childhood cancers. That is why we are investing in more research, but it is also vital that we do tests, diagnostic scans and screens early enough, and that is why it is also important that not only has National Institute for Health and Care Excellence updated its guidance on referring childhood cancers in February last year, but we are investing in 100 new diagnostic centres in community hubs”.

Launch of call for evidence

On World Cancer Day (February 4th), a new call for evidence was launched to inform an ambitious 10-Year Cancer Plan; which aims to make the country’s cancer care system the ‘best in Europe’ with a renewed focus placed on innovative cancer treatment and early diagnosis. In his speech to launch the new policy, the Health Secretary referenced his meeting with Charlotte Fairall, Sophie’s mother, which was organised by Caroline last year.

The Health Secretary said: “I was so moved by an inspiring woman, Charlotte Fairall, who I met just before Christmas. Charlotte’s daughter Sophie was sadly taken by an aggressive form of cancer at the age of ten. This went unnoticed by a GP before it was diagnosed in A&E by a paediatrician, who found a tumour that was 12 centimetres long. Charlotte is a dedicated fundraiser and a passionate advocate for improving childhood cancer care and my meeting her had a great impact on me.”

In his speech on Friday the Health and Social Care Secretary outlined new and strengthened priorities, which included key points to address issues including:

  • increasing the number of people diagnosed at an early stage, where treatment can prove much more effective; boosting the cancer workforce to deal with this process.
  • tackling disparities and inequalities, including in cancer diagnosis times and ensuring recovery from the pandemic is delivered in a fair way. For instance, the ‘Help Us Help You’ cancer awareness campaign will be directed towards people from more deprived groups and ethnic minorities.
  • intensifying research on mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for cancer – this will be achieved through the UK’s global leadership and supporting industry to develop new cancer treatments by combining expertise in cancer immunotherapy treatment and the vaccine capabilities developed throughout the pandemic.
  • Intensifying research on new early diagnostic tools to catch cancer at an earlier stage.
  • Improving prevention of cancer through tackling the big known risk factors such as smoking.

Commenting, Caroline said: “I am so pleased that Sophie’s story had such an impact on the Health Secretary. Sophie’s story is heartbreaking but sadly not unique and I have been contacted by numerous families with similar stories”.

“Charlotte Fairall has shown remarkable determination in her efforts to change the way we detect, treat and care for children with Cancer, I have pledged to do all I can to support her and push for the changes we want to see. I’m hoping to lead a debate in Parliament on these issues soon”.