Patrick McGuire, one of our Campaigns Ambassadors, with his partner Sue
On the 4th of February 2022, World Cancer Day, Health Secretary Sajid Javid declared a ‘war on cancer’.
With this declaration, he announced the development of a new 10-year Cancer Plan for England. This plan, he said, would look at issues across the entire cancer pathway, from prevention through to treatment, with the aim of making England’s cancer care system among the best in Europe.
But he announced that the Government wouldn’t be developing this plan alone.
Instead, it would be calling for both experts and people affected by cancer to submit evidence on how to shape an overall cancer strategy that looks beyond the end of the NHS’s existing Long Term Plan.
This presented a unique opportunity to help revolutionise what cancer outcomes will look like in England 10 years from now, in 2032. It was one that could not be ignored.
And to help us make the most of this opportunity, we asked another group of experts to submit evidence: our Campaigns Ambassadors.
Who are our Campaigns Ambassadors?
Our Campaigns Ambassadors are a community of volunteers across the UK. They play an integral role in all of our campaigns, from meeting with their local MPs to collecting petition signatures.
Their work is varied but has one common goal – to drive change on urgent cancer issues by influencing government policy.
This placed our Campaigns Ambassadors in the perfect position to submit responses to influence the 10-year plan. Their evidence has provided the Government with crucial insight into the breadth of experiences of people living with cancer and their families.
Improving access to care
Jane, one of our Ambassadors who submitted evidence for the plan, was diagnosed with both kidney and uterine cancers in 2016. When asked how access to, and the experience of, cancer treatment can be improved, her answer was clear.
“Sufficient staff are needed to cover the cancer wards,” she wrote.
“Improving access to cancer treatment requires having facilities available along with staff to cover those facilities. It is very important for there to be sufficient facilities for all, whether for surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.”
Jane benefited from the availability of a mobile chemotherapy unit while she was receiving treatment. In her submission, she highlighted that this is not an opportunity everyone is afforded.
“Not everyone is well enough to be able to transport themselves to the treatment. Not everybody has family that can help and not everyone lives within easy reach of transport they can afford that would get them to the treatment.”
And Jane’s submission extended beyond her own treatment, raising the importance of knowing when to make an appointment with your doctor.
“Recognising signs and symptoms of cancer should be an integral part of the education system along with the awareness of causes and prevention. People know that a cough and sneeze is probably a cold, do they know that the cough and breathlessness could be symptoms of lung cancer?”
Catching cancer early
Another of our Ambassadors, Lynsey, drew on her own experience of breast cancer treatment to inform her submission, in which she demanded more comprehensive testing when signs of cancer are detected.
She wrote: “I was 38 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’d found a lump and, very luckily, saw my GP the next day. I was referred to the hospital for a scan within 2 weeks, which is not an experience everyone gets that easily.
“I had a mammogram and during the ultrasound, the radiographer assured me it looked like fatty tissue and was quite common for my age. He decided to carry out a biopsy then, ‘just in case’. It was this biopsy that confirmed I had cancer.
“The mammogram and ultrasound did not confirm it. Had I not been lucky that my radiographer took a biopsy, my cancer would have gone undetected for much longer. This is something many people face and many I met on my cancer journey went undiagnosed for months, even years. The triple assessment should be standard.”
Lynsey was one of many calling for better diagnosis standards.
Patrick has been volunteering as an Ambassador since 2013 in memory of his wife, Pam.
“My wife died from bowel cancer aged just 52 after she was diagnosed far too late,” he wrote.
“Over a period of 18 months, Pam visited our GP on three occasions with symptoms of abdominal discomfort and fatigue. She was variously diagnosed with firstly, being a busy, working mother going through the menopause, then with possible diverticulitis and finally with depression. Over time, her symptoms got worse, but she was never offered any examination or test.
“Successful early diagnosis buys precious time and hope. If Pam had been diagnosed at an early stage, she would have had a 90% chance of survival. But as she was diagnosed very late, she had a less than 10% chance.”
And, like Jane, Patrick’s recommendations were clear: investment in earlier diagnosis as a priority.
“Better investment in diagnostic capability could save thousands of lives a year. The NHS can’t improve while workforce shortages continue, and cancer patients deserve a fully funded and planned workforce to save more lives.
“CRUK has a bold ambition for 3 in 4 to survive cancer by 2034. In that year our grandchildren will be 18, 16 and 14 and that’s a world I know Pam would want them to grow up in – a world where more couples have more time together, more families share those special times together and time for more grandchildren to be spoiled by more grandparents.”
An opportunity for change
Jane, Patrick, Lynsey, and all our supporters that submitted evidence, have joined us in advocating for a cancer plan for all. Together, we’re making sure that people affected by cancer have a real say in the future of cancer services in England.
This 10-year Cancer Plan is an opportunity for the Government to take bold action, close the gap between the UK and similar countries on cancer survival, and harness the potential of research and innovation to transform cancer outcomes.
We must make the most of this opportunity, putting cancer prevention, sustained investment in cancer research, and addressing cancer inequalities at the centre of any new plan. And critically, this ambition must be backed with funding and accountability. Now is the moment to work harder, and work together, for the millions of us in the UK affected by cancer.
Michelle Mitchell, our Chief Executive Officer
On the 1st of April, we submitted our response to the Government’s call for evidence. In it, we set out clear and actionable recommendations for how with a combination of innovation, investment, and ambition, a new plan could turn promises into reality.
And the priorities that our supporters highlighted are at the forefront of our submission.
We need to do much more to diagnose cancer at an early, more treatable stage. That means increasing public awareness of potential cancer symptoms and encouraging people to see a doctor when they notice them.
It means ensuring that the NHS has the people, equipment and facilities to diagnose cancer patients faster and offer them the very best treatment. And vitally, it means taking decisive steps to tackle the unacceptable inequalities that exist right across the cancer pathway.
We also need to do much more to tackle the greatest preventable causes of cancer, tobacco and obesity. With the UK a world leader in cancer research, we can do also more to maximise its impact by improving access to data for new research, fostering a strong research and development environment, and ensuring that promising new innovations can quickly make it into the NHS.
Together with our supporters and Campaigns Ambassadors, we’ve set out the way forward.
Now, the Government must guarantee that the 10-year plan for cancer has the funding, accountability, and ambition to set England on a trajectory to world class cancer outcomes.