Tuesday was a particularly busy day for our Policy Department, as the 14th annual Britain Against Cancer conference was held in Westminster.
The conference is organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPGC), a group of MPs and Lords with an interest in cancer policy. All the big hitters in cancer policy were there, including the Secretary of State for Health (Jeremy Hunt MP), his opposite number (Andy Burnham MP) and former National Cancer Director Professor Sir Mike Richards, who is now the NHS Commissioning Board representative responsible for reducing premature mortality, including cancer.
We were also pleased to invite three of our volunteer Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors who attended sessions and asked key questions of the speakers on behalf of us all.
The day began with APPGC Chair, John Baron MP, saying that if 2012 has been a year of transition for the NHS, then 2013 needs to be about delivery. He highlighted the group’s key concerns which were:
- Making sure that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (NHS bodies brought in to replace Primary Care Trusts) are monitored on their progress in improving cancer survival locally and diagnosing cancer earlier;
- That cancer patients’ experiences of the NHS are measured regularly and improved nationally and locally;
- That the role, remit and funding for the restructured Cancer Networks is clarified.
Next up, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham MP, welcomed the Government’s recent announcements on screening and research, and made a number of welcome points on increasing radiotherapy capacity and prioritising research into rarer cancers.
Most notably for us, Mr Burnham reaffirmed the Opposition’s commitment to plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products, and urged the Government to legislate as soon as possible (see our campaign).
In response to our Cancer Campaigns Ambassador Elizabeth Bailey, he also mentioned that the Labour Party is considering setting a national ambition for the reduction of smoking. The Party is reviewing its health policy next year, so this will be something to watch out for.
Professor Sir Mike Richards was the National Cancer Director at the Department of Health between 1999 and 2012, and has been promoted to the NHS Commissioning Board. He highlighted a number of key challenges and next steps for cancer policy, such as pooling all cancer data in one database, which will greatly improve analysis.
Our Cancer Campaigns Ambassador Tony Selman asked Professor Richards where responsibility for the early diagnosis of cancer will sit within the new NHS. Prof Richards assured the conference that early diagnosis will remain a key priority for the NHS Commissioning Board, the Department of Health, Public Health England and local organisations such as Local Authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards. All of these organisations will have a role to play in promoting and ensuring earlier diagnosis of cancer in the new NHS.
We were delighted that Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, confirmed during the day new pilot sites for flexible sigmoidoscopy. This is a crucial step in making better screening tests available across the country and saving more lives from cancer. Cancer Research UK led a 16-year-trial that showed just how effective flexi-scope screening is – it will save thousands of lives from bowel cancer every year. You can read more here.
Mr Hunt wants to make England’s cancer survival rates among the best in the world, which is an exciting ambition, and will only be possible if all the relevant organisations ensure that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, that it is diagnosed earlier, and that all patients get the best treatment.
Mr Hunt said that he would make the important decision on plain packaging soon, based on the evidence presented to him. Our Executive Director of Policy and Information, Sarah Woolnough, reiterated some of the evidence to him – that smoking causes 20 per cent of deaths, that eight in ten smokers start by the age of 19, and that plain packaging would give millions of children one less reason to start. Please do take five minutes to email your MP asking them to show their support for plain packs to the Secretary of State.
Our conference breakout session, which we ran with the National Cancer Research Institute, focussed on research policy. Professor Peter Selby presented research showing that bowel cancer patients do better when they’re treated hospitals that carry out research such as clinical trials.
In other breakout sessions, Sara Hiom, our Director of Early Diagnosis and Patient Engagement, spoke about how we can improve early diagnosis, and Sarah Woolnough gave the conference more details on the Radiotherapy Innovation Fund, which Cancer Research UK is helping to administer.
This year’s conference was a great opportunity to hear from key figures in cancer policy at a crucial time of change for the NHS.
And, of course, we will continue to campaign for plain, standardised tobacco packs to help save more lives, sooner.