In July, only two months into my parliamentary career, I was fortunate enough to be successful in the Private Members’ Bill ballot and became one of twenty backbench MPs who have the opportunity to introduce a piece of legislation in this Parliament.
It was a big surprise and a real honour to have the chance to change the law so soon after having been elected as an MP. I wanted to bring forward a bill that would have the greatest impact on the lives of my constituents and – after talking to Breast Cancer Now – I decided to introduce the Off-patent Drugs Bill.
If passed, the Bill will help hundreds of thousands of people in Torfaen and across the UK gain access to low-cost treatments for a range of conditions, including breast cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
In the short time I have been an MP I have already met many constituents affected by these terrible diseases and seen the impact on their lives and on those of their family and friends. I also know first-hand, having lost my own grandmother to breast cancer.
It was she who inspired me to go into politics and then to become a breast cancer ambassador, and passing this Bill would be a wonderful tribute to her.
The Bill is designed to overcome a problem with the current system which means that certain cheap, effective drugs are not routinely available. Some existing, ‘off-patent’ drugs have been shown to be effective for different purposes to the one they were originally intended for.
But although they could benefit people right across the UK, many of these drugs are not routinely prescribed.
This is because they are not approved in the UK for the new use and – as these drugs are so cheap - pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to get a new licence for them and ensure their adoption on the NHS. T
his in turn means that doctors are often reluctant to prescribe them, despite their effectiveness. A good example of this is a type of drug called bisphosphonates.
Bisphosphonates have typically been used to treat osteoporosis but recent studies have shown that they are also highly effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer spreading to the bone, at which point it becomes incurable.
If bisphosphonates were routinely offered on the NHS, these drugs alone would save 1,000 lives a year and millions of pounds for the NHS. Removing the barriers to prescribing drugs like these could have huge benefits for patients, not only in my constituency but across the UK.
How you can help
I have been delighted by the level of public support for the Bill and hope this will illustrate to my parliamentary colleagues why it is so important that it passes into law.
Your support is vital because in order to ensure that the Bill passes to its next stage we need enough MPs to be in Parliament on Friday November 6 to vote in favour of the Bill.
As MPs are usually in their constituency on Fridays they have to think an issue is really important to be persuaded to stay in Westminster for a debate. MPs receive hundreds of letters and emails a day on a range of different issues so it can be difficult to make them sit up and take notice.
However I know from personal experience just how powerful it is to speak to one of my constituents with a personal connection to an issue like breast cancer and it is a really effective way of getting MPs on your side.
So please get involved with Breast Cancer Now’s Unlock Drugs campaign and encourage your MP to support the Off-patent Drugs Bill.
You can either go along to your MP’s regular constituency surgery or simply give their office a call and encourage them to vote for the Bill when it is next debated in parliament on Friday 6 November.
By acting together, we can help save thousands of lives. Please help me achieve real change for women and men affected by breast cancer by getting in touch with your MP today.
For useful hints and tips on how to contact your MP, please download the Breast Cancer Now campaign pack.