Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Increasing research into rare forms of cancer

Cancer is a devastating disease and one that, sadly, almost everyone has had first hand experience of.  The experience of being diagnosed and treated for cancer is extremely difficult, and can be even more terrifying if you are diagnosed with a rare cancer.  Of the 280 types of cancer around 250 are rare forms of the disease, which doctors often know little about.  This makes diagnosis and treatment so much harder.  Of all the people affected by cancer, up to a third will have a rare cancer.

Because each type of these rare forms of the disease only affects a relatively small amount of people it can be difficult, if not impossible, to try out new drugs or therapies on patients in one country alone.  Therefore it is vital that we can easily conduct cross-border clinical trials for treatments of rare cancers.  There is already an EU directive in place that should mean that clinical trials meet the same standards and follow the same procedure no matter which member state they are carried out in.  However EU governments have implemented the directive in different ways which makes the system confusing and cross-border trials difficult to organise.  Also the amount of administration and the costs involved in clinical trials means that less and less are being carried out, especially on drugs that only treat rare types of cancer.

That's why the European Parliament will be revising the legislation next year.  To prepare for this I organised the Parliament's official Health Working Group, which I co-chair, to focus on rare cancers.  I invited two inspirational young men, Peter from Sheffield who is now 25, and Sam from Newark in my constituency who is just 14, to speak at the event.  Both Peter and Sam have survived rare forms of cancer, but were subject to mis-diagnosis and experimentation with drugs and therapies because too little was known about the types of tumours that they had.  The problem is especially bad for children, as trials are not often carried out specifically on children, and instead they are given adult drugs based on pure guess work.  We need to make sure that it is easier to carry out trials for new treatments of rare cancers, and childhood cancers in particular.

At the event Peter showed a moving video from the website he now works for,, which is a forum for young cancer sufferers to share their experiences creatively.  The full version of this touching video telling the story of Alice, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer aged 15, can be seen here:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Greenest government ever?

This week we faced a huge disappointment in the European Parliament when MEPs rejected plans to commit to more ambitious reductions in CO2. Labour MEPs were fully behind plans to change our target from reducing emissions by 30% instead of 20% by 2020, as were, supposedly, the British government. To our dismay these plans were rejected by just nine votes.

Leading scientists agree that in order to stop a global environmental crisis we need to reduce our emissions by somewhere between 25-40% from 1990 levels. In order to do this Europe needs to be a world leader in driving down emissions, and the Tory-led coalition has pledged to be the greenest government ever. Strange then that it was the vote of 16 Conservative MEPs that stopped our plans to increase the target to 30%. Had they voted with us, and with their government, we would have won the vote.

David Cameron claims to be green, but this vote has shown the hollowness of his party's commitments on environmental policy. As global warming is a problem without borders, most of our environmental policies are made at a European level. The Tories have taken the pressure to act off the European Commission and EU countries, leaving the government's claim to be winning the argument on EU emissions in tatters. It looks like Cameron's commitment to lead the "greenest government ever" can be added to a long list of broken promises.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Crackdown on mobile surfing charges

There was good news this week that the European Commission is planning to take further action to drive down the cost of using mobile phones.

They’ve made a number of proposals to cut the cost of using mobile phones while abroad in another EU country, including introducing new price caps for using a mobile to access data, such as accessing emails or the internet.

This will be welcome whether you’re in Barcelona on business, on holiday in Helsinki or just travelling through Turin. We’re all still being charged too much for using our phones when abroad.

Already action has been taken to bring down the cost of making calls and sending texts while in another EU country, but with people increasingly using their smart phones to access the internet and online services, it’s high time we addressed this area of activity. It’s clear that many mobile operators are ripping-off off consumers with hugely inflated charges.

Of course the devil will be in the detail and we’ve yet to see the precise proposals from the Commission. These will need to be agreed by the European Parliament and EU governments before they come into force.

And we will need to watch that mobile phone operators don’t try to use these new proposals as an excuse to drive up prices for other services. After all, they have known for some time that if they did not act to end these unfairly high charges then the EU would act to protect consumers.

But it looks like an important step forward, and another clear sign of the tangible benefit of EU membership.