At Cancer Research UK, we’re dedicated to finding new ways to prevent, treat and ultimately cure all cancers. Scientific research lies at the heart of everything we do.
But discoveries in the laboratory need to be translated into tangible benefits for cancer patients. If we’re to ensure that research really makes a difference to patients and the public, we need governments to make the right decisions.
That’s why our policy team campaigns to keep cancer at the top of the health agenda – so that the fruits of research are borne out in effective, life-saving policies.
We recently outlined our highlights from 2012. But with 2013 now well underway, we also wanted to take stock of some important policy milestones from last year, and look towards our priorities for this year.
Our campaign for standardised tobacco packaging
If we could snap our fingers and stop every future smoker taking up the deadly habit, this would arguably have a greater impact on cancer than any single treatment. In the UK, smoking kills five times more people than road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV put together. And one in four cancer deaths are down to smoking.
That’s why we worked extremely hard last year on our campaign – The Answer Is Plain – which asks the Government to follow in Australia’s footsteps, making tobacco companies ‘de-brand’ their cigarette packets so they’re standardised, with the same colour, fonts and health warnings.
Packaging may seem innocuous, but it’s one of the main ways that cigarette brands entice potential customers, especially as tobacco advertising is banned in the UK.
And with many of their long-term customers dying, tobacco companies need to attract new smokers. In February, we released shocking statistics showing that 157,000 children take up smoking every year. The stark fact is that these children are the customers tobacco companies need to sustain their huge profits. Standardised packaging will give children one less reason to start smoking.
As part of the campaign, in June we went to Parliament for our biggest ever day of action. Around 70 of our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors met their MPs to talk about their personal perspective on why the campaign is so important, and we were also hard at work meeting top politicians. Around 60 MPs visited the Cancer Awareness Roadshow and talked to our nurses about their work in some of the UK’s most deprived communities.
Later in the year, we accompanied our Cancer Campaigns Ambassadors to all three party conferences, leafleting politicians and delegates and turning up the volume on the campaign.
And in November, despite the tobacco industry stepping up their opposition, we published a report which dispelled the myth of smuggling and campaigned to ensure that the voices of the 80,000 people who supported our campaign were included within the Government’s final consultation.
Finally, in December, Australia became the first country to introduce standardised tobacco packs, while our poll found that nearly two-thirds of the public would support plain packs.
Over the year, our hard-hitting campaign video got over 500,000 views.
This year, we’re expecting an announcement from the Government which we hope will be in favour of standardised packs, to give children one less reason to smoke.
Making sure the NHS delivers high-quality cancer services
Cancer patients in the UK deserve world-class services. The Government has big plans for change in the NHS and these started to be rolled out in 2012. We’ve been at the heart of efforts to make sure these work for cancer patients.
As well as the changes, June saw the Welsh Government publish its first comprehensive cancer plan – Together Against Cancer – which sets out how it will prevent more cancers and improve services in Wales. This is a great first step, but now we want to see it properly put into practice.
In July, new data emerged about the effectiveness of flexi-sigmoidoscopy – a bowel cancer screening test, which will save more lives if incorporated into the existing bowel screening programmes. The Government now has to roll out this technique quickly and effectively – a point we repeatedly stressed to them.
In September, we held our first regional Cancer Summit, attended by health experts and patients, to discuss how best to engage with the new NHS systems and structures created by the government’s reforms.
And in December we teamed up with the University of Birmingham to publish a report on the state of cancer services as the NHS reforms are rolled out. This valuable report adds a huge amount to our understanding of what’s happening on the ground – highlighting several concerns, but also showing that the NHS reforms have not yet had a significant impact on frontline cancer care.
The new NHS Commissioning Board, the body that will decide what patients need – and pay for it – will start operating from April, so we’ll be keeping a very close eye on the NHS in 2013 to make sure cancer patients don’t lose out.
Getting patients access to effective treatments
Making sure patients get the best care isn’t just about NHS infrastructure. It’s also essential to make sure the best treatments are getting to the patients who need them.
In August, we were delighted to hear that abiraterone – a treatment for advanced prostate cancer which Cancer Research UK helped to develop – would be funded on the NHS across the UK.
Abiraterone had originally been turned down and we lobbied for NICE to recalculate its sums and for the pharmaceutical company to lower its price. Both these things happened, leading to the drug’s approval. We’re expecting big announcements about the way drugs are priced and paid for this year and we’ll be scrutinising the Government’s decisions to make sure effective treatments get to patients.
Following our 2011 Voice for Radiotherapy campaign, the October announcement from David Cameron of a Radiotherapy Innovation Fund of £15 million to help improve services in England was fantastic news. From April 2013, advanced radiotherapy techniques will be available to all patients in England where clinically appropriate, safe and cost-effective. This was followed soon after by an announcement of a further £8 million for radiotherapy – all welcome news.
On the other hand, the Department of Health’s report on the state of radiotherapy in the UK painted a fairly bleak picture – we’ll continue to keep this issue high on the Government’s agenda as the year progresses.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Stopping people getting cancer in the first place is essential if we are to save lives from the disease.
In March, we saw a step in the right direction, when the Government proposed a minimum price on alcohol of 40p per unit of alcohol sold. We believe this would help reduce alcohol consumption, which can increase people’s chances of getting some cancers. We’re expecting a decision this year. And we want to see greater restrictions on alcohol marketing, particularly when it comes to protecting children – especially since research shows that, alarmingly, more children recognise major alcohol brands than popular cake and sweet brands. Ensuring a thriving environment for research
The UK needs to provide an excellent environment in which to conduct research if our researchers are to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. Throughout 2012, we worked hard to improve the environment for health research in the UK, so that patients and society reap the health and economic benefits.
At the European Parliament in February, we launched a report looking at the impact of EU legislation known as the Clinical Trials Directive on UK research, which you can read here.
And continuing the theme, in September, we published a joint statement with 35 other British and European organisations on cutting unnecessary red tape hampering clinical trials.
We also lobbied the Government to invest in medical research in the UK, and to introduce policies that support clinical research. This included releasing a report with the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) and the Wellcome Trust on how the research community can improve health research in the UK.
And in December, the Prime Minister visited the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, where he saw for himself some of our groundbreaking work.
During the visit, the PM outlined his plan to introduce a new genetics initiative that’ll help develop better treatments. The Government will set aside £100m for the project in England, which aims to give doctors a better understanding of patients’ genetic make-up.
We’ll keep up the pressure on the Clinical Trials Regulation in 2013 and, with a spending review scheduled this year, we’ll work hard to ensure a good deal for research.
Dealing with the unexpected
This year the Government’s proposal to include charities within the ‘Income Tax Cap’, would have cost Cancer Research UK between £5m and £15m over the next few years.
We responded with some pretty nifty lobbying – along with 3,500 voluntary organisations – and so were delighted when the Government reversed the decision.
We’ll keep an eye out throughout 2013 to make sure we can act fast in the face of the unexpected – it certainly keeps us on our toes!
Sara Osborne, Head of Policy