MPs hear about ‘very special’ care improvements list suggested by girl who has since died from cancer

A 10-year-old girl’s bucket list requests aimed at improving services and care for other child cancer sufferers have been put to ministers in the House of Commons.

MPs heard Sophie Fairall (pictured), from Hampshire, died last September some 12 months after she was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer known as rhabdomyosarcoma.

Conservative former minister Dame Caroline Dinenage, leading a parliamentary debate in the girl’s memory, said Sophie’s list was “very special” due to its desire to help others – including improvements to hospital food.

Dame Caroline, MP for Gosport, told the Commons: “During her illness, Sophie created a bucket list. It included lots of fabulous things.

“She wanted a pair of high heels, she wanted to cook with Gordon Ramsay.

“But Sophie’s list was very special because she also wished for improvements in the way that we look after others who are in the same position as herself.

“She wanted better facilities for children in hospital wards and from her bed she painted ceramics which were sold to raise £6,000 to buy new toys for her ward.

“Most hospitals only have play specialists at very limited hours and there’s no data collected on the number of play specialists working in the NHS, so on Sophie’s behalf I’d ask the minister to look at the provision of play specialists.

“Sophie also wanted better hospital food for poorly children and she was worried about the parents who spent hours at the bedside and often didn’t get to eat at all.

“Often during her own treatment Sophie felt poorly at the point of set meal times, but later when she was feeling a bit better there was no capacity at the hospital to make her anything to eat.”

MPs heard Sophie’s mother Charlotte has vowed to continue the campaigning work in a bid to improve research, detection, treatment and care for children with cancer.

Dame Caroline asked for a new “childhood cancer mission”, explaining: “A concerted effort to bring together the very best in research, in genomics, in training, in treatment, in philanthropy, in medical and allied health professionals – the brightest and the best – to really change our approach to childhood cancer once and for all.

“Childhood cancer is often referred to as rare but it’s the biggest killer of children under the age of 14. In this age group there are around 1,800 new cancer cases every year.”

Labour MP Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) recalled his son’s leukaemia diagnosis.

He said: “I will never forget that phone call from my wife 15 years ago telling me that our nine-year-old son had leukaemia.

“For us, it soon became clear that the only route open to us would be a stem cell transplant and we were very fortunate that we found a donor for our son, but far too many children still are not as lucky, particularly those from non-white backgrounds.”

Conservative MP Flick Drummond (Meon Valley) suggested having a “national campaign on the signs and symptoms of childhood cancer”, and also called for “better training for GPs and nurses alongside more funding for research”.

Labour MP Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) raised the case of a 17-year-old who died from cancer, where she said the mum had googled the symptoms and suggested it might be a certain kind of tumour, only to be told “not in one so young”.

The MP said that sadly the mother’s suggestion turned out to be correct and called for “better training, more research and additional support for children and their families to ease their suffering at this most difficult of times”.

Health minister Maria Caulfield acknowledged the importance of nutritious food in hospital, adding: “We are working extremely hard to improve hospital food following the publication of the independent review in October 2020.”

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.”

She offered to meet Dame Caroline to discuss further her ideas.

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