This morning the Queen opened the third session of the 2010-15 Parliament with a speech in the House of Lords.
Her speech was written by the Government, and outlined its legislative agenda for the upcoming parliamentary session (which will last roughly a year).
And over the next couple of days, both Peers in the House of Lords, and MPs in the House of Commons will debate its contents.
Cancer Research UK takes a great interest in the Government’s plans, and how we think they will affect cancer patients and research into the disease.
So what are the key points for us from this speech?
The bad news
First, the bad news. Last week’s rumours have turned out to be true, and the Government has failed to put forward legislation to put tobacco products in standardised packaging.
This is extremely disappointing, and a sad day for the nation’s health.
You can read more about our campaign for this here, and we’ll be posting a more detailed reaction tomorrow.
The good news
In better news, we’re pleased to see the Government’s plans for a Care Bill. Although this is principally about care and support for those in older age, it contains clauses which should also improve the way research is carried out in the NHS.
We’ll be looking at the finer details as they emerge, but we’re hopeful that the Government has listened to the suggestions that we and others in the medical research community made, to give new powers and independence to a body called the Health Research Authority (HRA).
Getting permission to run a study in a hospital continues to be one of the biggest barriers to doing research in the NHS, and is therefore a major issue for us at Cancer Research UK. At any one time we’re supporting around 240 clinical trials in the NHS.
In 2011, the Academy of Medical Sciences outlined in their report of NHS research governance the significant amount of time it took to recruit the first patient to a clinical trial. We do not believe that any great improvements have been made since that report.
We’ve been asking for several years for the approvals system in the NHS to be streamlined – there is evidence showing that many checks are duplicated or unnecessary at a local level.
In the HRA we see a great opportunity to deliver a big reduction in the time it takes to do a study, and we want the HRA to push forward with work to reduce this time, with support from the Government.
Making the HRA independent from Government will allow it to pursue its goals of promoting research in the NHS and protecting patients without having to worry about political interference. This will mean that the UK will have a much more stable and reliable regulatory system for health research.
You can read more about a recent Parliamentary inquiry where we discussed clinical trials here.
The Government also announced plans for a Mesothelioma Bill – which will establish a payment scheme for people with diffuse mesothelioma (a certain type of asbestos related lung cancer) where their employer or employers’ liability insurance company cannot be traced. There are around 3,500 people across the UK who qualify for payments, which will total around £355m in the first 10 years.
Despite today’s disappointment, we will continue to push for the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging through our Setting the Standard campaign, particularly as we believe that support for the idea has a clear majority in Houses of Parliament. Tomorrow’s blog will go in to this in more detail, including how you can help.
On the HRA, we will look closely at the Government’s draft legislation, and continue to push for it to be the best it can be for cancer patients.
In all, the Government set out 20 new Bills today. As ever, we will be keeping a close eye on anything in these Bills that will affect cancer patients, and we’ll be campaigning on their behalf accordingly.