On Thursday 10 January, I asked Jeremy Hunt what kind of explanation he could possibly give to a cancer patient who had her operation postponed due to the terrible pressures our NHS has been under this winter.
PhD student Carly O'Neill wrote movingly in the Guardian about how her operation has been rescheduled for February because there simply were no beds in the hospital for her to recover after the operation.
This is a scandal. I know from my own experience that the prospect of a cancer operation is scary enough, without having uncertainty about whether or not it will even take place. As Carly wrote: "Life feels a little like it’s on hold until this cancer is dealt with."
Jeremy Hunt claims that NHS England's guidance was clear - that cancer operations should not be postponed as they are so critical for recovery. But if NHS staff are pushed to their limit and there are no beds left for patients, then it is clear that something is going badly wrong. The Health Secretary and the government must get a grip on this crisis. Making patients like Carly wait in continued uncertainty is utterly unacceptable.
In his response, Jeremy Hunt invited me to let him know about individual cases of patients who have been affected. So if you live in Bristol West and have had a cancer operation cancelled or postponed over this winter, or if you've had any other treatment that has been delayed, please do let me know so I can raise this directly with the government. You can contact my office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have to intervene. I had treatment and an operation for cancer. If my operation had been cancelled, I would have been able to come to this House and ask the Secretary of State personally to intervene, but I am speaking today on behalf of Carly O’Neill, who went to the press to talk about her cancer operation. What explanation does the Health Secretary have to give Carly O’Neill and other cancer patients for their operations being cancelled?
Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care)
I say, very directly, that the instructions from NHS England could not have been clearer that cancer operations should not be cancelled, because they are deemed to be urgent. From the perspective of the Government and NHS senior leadership, such cancellations are not acceptable. If the hon. Lady knows of individual cases, she should raise them with me and we will look into the matter. It is precisely because we want to preserve capacity for people who need it the most that we have taken these difficult decisions.
You can watch the exchange here: