MP Mark Tami calls on Government to ensure children with cancer not left behind

Clic Sargent DebateA FLINTSHIRE MP whose young son fought leukaemia will call on the Government today (Thursday) to ensure children recovering from cancer get the support they need to catch up with their education.

Mark Tami, MP for Alyn and Deeside, is expected to speak at an adjournment debate at the House of Commons at 5pm following a report by CLIC Sargent entitled ‘No Child With Cancer Left Out’ into the impact of childhood cancer on primary school children’s education.

It found some children are bullied by their classmates, lose friends and risk falling behind at school because of their condition.

The Labour MP’s son Max, now 14, was diagnosed with leukaemia five years ago at the age of nine. Max has made a good recovery after undergoing intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

He was in and out of hospital for more than a year and spent several weeks in intensive care, having suffered organ failure.

Speaking before the debate, Mr Tami said: “At first Max just became a bit lethargic and developed bruises on his legs. We thought initially it was just a viral thing. Then he had further tests at hospital and that’s when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

“The diagnosis was pretty devastating. It turned our world upside down. It was pretty helter-skelter after that. He was in intensive care for quite a while. His kidneys starting failing and then his liver and heart started to fail too. We were afraid he was going to suffer brain damage at one point.”

Mr Tami and his wife Sally, a former teacher, drove to and from Liverpool to the Alder Hey Hospital to be with Max while he underwent treatment.

Max, who has a brother Oscar, 12, is now in remission and has not suffered any lasting ill-effects. He fitted happily back into Llanfynydd Primary School and is now at Castell Alun High School in Hope.

Mr Tami added: “Max had a pretty positive experience going back to his primary school. He wasn’t bullied or anything. In fact, school friends had sent him cards to keep in touch when he was off. The reception he got from other pupils and teachers was fine, but it still took him quite a while to fit back in with his peer group.

“We did ask someone to come in – a hospital nurse or someone from the local education authority – and they explained things to the kids and also to teachers. I think that’s really important. If you’re seven, eight or nine years old and one day your friend’s there and then they’re not the next, that’s difficult.

“Their classmates might not see a child who’s being treated for cancer for six months or a year. And then when the child returns to school they might look completely different, with no hair, they might be thin or bloated because of the chemotherapy or steroid treatment.

“This could be a terrifying experience for other children. They could be thinking ‘is my friend going to live?’, ‘am I going to catch it?’. So it’s important someone goes into schools and talks to children when a child is off sick with cancer.”

Mr Tami will call on the Government to act on the other recommendations in CLIC Sargent’s report, including:

Discouraging local authorities to cut funding for hospital schools and home tuition.

Promoting a more joined-up approach between schools, hospital schools, home tutors and parents, so children can make the transition from hospital to home and back to school more easily.

Sharing good practice among schools.

Children unable to attend school long-term because of sickness should still receive suitable full time education.