Stubbington mum and Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage vow to 'keep fighting' following 'disappointing' conclusion to childhood cancer debate

‘WHILE there’s breath in my body I’m not stopping this fight.’

A passionate Stubbington mum has vowed to keep pushing for improvements in the detection and treatment of childhood cancers in a bid to save lives, despite a ‘deeply disappointing’ outcome in parliament.

As reported, Charlotte Fairall - whose beloved 10-year-old daughter Sophie died from a soft tissue cancer last year - teamed up with Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage to call for ‘real’ change, starting with the House of Commons.

Joined by a number of other parents whose children experienced cancer as well as their supporters, Charlotte made the journey to Westminster yesterday to watch a two-hour debate – the first ever on childhood cancers – led by Ms Dinenage.

Charlotte Fairall and Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage at Westminster and right, Sophie Fairall

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In her opening speech Ms Dinenage asked her peers how childhood cancer could be considered ‘rare’ when 12 children and young people are diagnosed with it every day in the UK.

She said: ‘Early detection is the next frontier in adult cancer, and for children it’s even more vital. And yet, for so many children, the diagnosis comes far too late.

‘Sophie had suffered for a few months with tummy problems - the GP first suggested Gaviscon - or that it could be IBS.

Left to right: Nick Wakeling, Caroline Ronsseray, Kirsty Lomas, Charlotte Fairall, Caroline Dinenage, Sally Randall, Sara Wakeling, Jo Rutt and Christian Parrino

‘When Sophie started bleeding, her mum was advised that it might be her period – she was nine years old.

‘By the time her parents took her to A&E, the paediatrician found a 12cm tumour in her tummy.

‘Sophie’s story is not unusual. Over 53 per cent of childhood cancer cases are picked up through A&E rather than primary care – compared to 22 per cent of adult cancers.’

To conclude, Ms Dinenage asked that a working group of paediatric oncologists, parents and young cancer survivors is created as a children’s cancer mission - called ‘Sophie’s Mission.’

Sophie Fairall from Stubbington

‘To ensure that, as a nation, we are doing everything in our power to improve how we detect, treat and care for children with cancer,’ she said.

Her address was met by a series of ‘heartfelt’ accounts from politicians of all parties - sharing stories of children in their constituencies who had died from cancer at extremely young ages.

Many agreed that the detection of childhood cancers was not good enough, and that the treatments available were often out of date or not suitable for young people, with chemo and radiotherapy often leaving them with lasting physical injuries.

They also backed calls for more funding to be put in the research of childhood cancers.

Caroline Dinenage, on general debate on childhood cancer outcomes at the House of Commons, London on 26th April 2022

However, the closing response from the minister for patient safety and primary care - Maria Caulfield - did not directly agree to Ms Dinenage’s demands.

Instead she noted several recommendations were made and an NHS England-led three-year plan was under way to implement them, adding: ‘I’m hoping Sophie and her family will be pleased we’re making some progress with that.’

Ms Caulfield also said the government’s recently announced 10-year cancer strategy sought to tackle many of the issues raised in the debate, noting: ‘It’s a great opportunity to put forward the case for childhood cancers.’

But she did agree to meet Ms Dinenage and Charlotte to discuss the matter further.

Speaking after the debate Charlotte, 41, said she thought the ‘debate was going really well’.

‘Each MP that gave their constituent’s account was really heartfelt, really moving.

Sophie Fairall in hospital

‘And the shadow health minister gave a really good response.

But she said: ‘Sadly the response from Maria Caulfield I felt was deeply disappointing, it did not get across the feel of the room. She just missed the point.

‘She has, after the debate, agreed to meet me. I really hope there could be change.

‘I know this is going to be a battle, this is not going to be done overnight but I have made that promise and I will not stop. While there’s breath in my body I’m not stopping this fight.

‘I think Sophie would be proud that I’ve not given up. It would be the easy option because this is hard work with the knockbacks and not being listened to but I won’t stop.’

Ms Dinenage agreed. ‘The debate today was really emotional because we have over 20 speakers from across the house from every corner of the United Kingdom speaking quite frequently about their own constituents, many of whom had lost their lives,’ she said.

‘I’m hoping this is just the first step in what will be an ongoing and enduring campaign to drive forward this mission to improve the way we treat children with cancer.

‘The minister’s speech was, I think, a bit disappointing. I don’t think she really acknowledged quite a lot of the issues that were being raised around the lack of research and how this is very much the Cinderella of cancer in terms of the way it is being researched and the funding that’s going into it.

‘So this is just the first step we’re not going to give up, we’re going to keep pushing, we’re going to keep working together and we’re going to speak to the minister and try to move the dial on this.

‘We’ve heard tragic stories today of children’s lives lost that could have been prevented by better early detection, better treatment and we’ve failed them, it’s not good enough, we need to do better.’

Other parents supporting Charlotte and Ms Dinenage included Kirsty Lomas, 42, from Winchester, Sally Randall, 54, from Southampton, Jo Rutt, 48, from Hertfordshire, Sara Wakeling, 43, from Kent and Caroline Ronsseray, 40, from London.

Cancer is recognised as the biggest killer of children under the age of 14, and in this age group there are around 1,800 new cancer cases each year.

Figures also show one in 320 people will be diagnosed with cancer before their 20th birthday.

Charlotte Fairall and Caroline Dinenage at the Houses of Parliament