Peers applaud Dame Tessa Jowell after emotional cancer speech

Former Labour cabinet minister Dame Tessa Jowell was given a standing ovation after making an emotional plea for more cancer treatments to be made available through the NHS.

The Labour peer, who has brain cancer, called for more opportunities for "adaptive trials" in which patients can undergo different treatments, and if one does not work they can immediately move on to the next.

Baroness Jowell, whose voice cracked several times during her House of Lords speech, told fellow peers of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent battle to beat the disease.

She said: "On May 24 last year, I was on my way to talk about new Sure Start projects in East London.

"I got into a taxi but couldn't speak, I had two powerful seizures. I was taken to hospital.

"Two days later, I was told that I had a brain tumour, glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM.

"A week later the tumour was removed by an outstanding surgeon at the National Hospital in Queen Square."

Baroness Jowell told peers that GBM strikes less than 3,000 people in England every year and generally has a very poor prognosis.

She added: "Less than 2% of cancer research funding in the UK is spent on brain tumours. No vital new drugs have been developed in the last 50 years."

Baroness Jowell, who was one of the Labour Party's best-known faces during Tony Blair's era, went on to say how she had taken solace from Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

She said: "Seamus Heaney's last words were 'do not be afraid'. I am not afraid, but I am fearful that this new and important approach may be put into the 'too difficult' box."

She added: "All we now ask is that doctors and health systems learn to do the same. Learn from each other.

"In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.

"I hope this debate will give hope to other cancer patients like me. So that we can live well with cancer, not just be dying of it."

As Baroness Jowell concluded her speech peers, members of the public and Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was also in the chamber, rose to applaud.

The tribute is thought to be the first of its kind in the House of Lords.

Labour former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton paid tribute to Lady Jowell, saying she had done what everyone wanted their politicians to do in "earnestly following noble causes" and trying to make life better for others.

"Tessa has been doing that in every way on every day through years and years."

He said the last few months had not been easy for her but what shone through that time was the extent to which she had "touched other people's lives".

Speaker after speaker on all sides of the House paid tribute to Lady Jowell's "inspirational" speech and leadership on cancer care.

Labour spokeswoman Baroness Thornton said Lady Jowell had proved right time and time again when a minister and warned the Government: "They had better believe this noble lady and take what she is telling us very seriously indeed."

Health and Social Care minister Lord O'Shaughnessy hailed the "extraordinary character" Lady Jowell had shown in leading the debate, adding: "She has inspired us all and many cancer sufferers too."

Lord O'Shaughnessy said historically the UK had lagged behind the best-performing countries in Europe on cancer treatment.

More investment was needed in research for brain cancer and making that happen was a specific objective of a departmental working group, the peer said.

He added that Lady Jowell had offered hope to cancer sufferers. "She raises our sights and demands that collectively we work harder to offer hope to people affected by the terrible disease she suffers with such dignity.

"It is the right challenge and one I'm prepared to accept on behalf of the Government. In doing so, I promise that our efforts will not waver until the scourge of cancer no longer robs us of the ones we love."

Lady Jowell welcomed the minister's "inspiring" response to the debate, insisting: "I feel we have made real progress forward. It happens very rarely in this sort of way."

As the debate closed, Lady Jowell was given another round of loud applause from the all sides of the House and the public galleries.

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