Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK
The dust has just about settled on the latest busy week in politics. The Conservative party has a new leader and so the UK has a new Prime Minister.
Outside 10 Downing Street, Boris Johnson used his first speech to commit to supporting the NHS and building on the strength of our science in the UK.
These are vital ambitions. And now more than ever, they must become reality.
Why should the Government prioritise cancer?
Brexit will be the biggest thing on the Government’s plate. But cancer can’t be forgotten.
Cancer affects all of us. In the UK, 1 in 2 people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. And the public consistently see health as one of the most important issues facing the country.
Preventing more cancers and making sure people are diagnosed early and treated quickly matters deeply to those affected. That’s why it should be a priority for anyone leading the country, from MPs up to the Prime Minister.
So, what should the new Government do?
Early diagnosis is crucial. The commitment from Government and the NHS last year that it will diagnose 3 in 4 cancers early by 2028 was hugely positive. This will save thousands of lives. But getting there will mean hospitals have to carry out more tests, leaving an already short-staffed NHS under growing pressure.
To prevent this, the new Government must now invest in the NHS workforce. This is essential in the short-term, but it also goes much further.
Without investment in training and education to grow vital staff numbers, the ambitions of the NHS long term plan are at risk of being lost. And it will become even more challenging to help the growing number of people who will be diagnosed with cancer in the future.
But relieving the strain on our much-loved NHS doesn’t just rely on staff numbers.
Preventing more cancers should also be an essential goal for the new Government. This means delivering on the recent promises to make England smokefree by 2030 and acting on evidence that will help people make healthier choices, including through restrictions on junk food advertising. If the Prime Minister prioritises cancer prevention, he can protect future generations, while saving the NHS time and money.
Progress on all these fronts relies on one thing: great science. It’s what builds the evidence for us, and Government, to save lives. Thanks to research, cancer survival in the UK has doubled since the 1970s, so today half of all people diagnosed with cancer survive.
That’s why I fully support the Prime Minister’s commitment to UK science. And as Brexit discussions continue, science must be front and centre in our future relationship with the EU.
I hear time and again from our scientists that international collaboration is at the heart of developing life-saving treatments. If it’s harder to work together, progress is likely to be slower.
How will Cancer Research UK help?
Whatever the Prime Minister’s priorities, we’ll be working hard – with your help – to make sure that early diagnosis, prevention and world-class research are high on the Government’s agenda.
We will also continue our work with MPs from all political parties, because it’s not just the Government of the day that influences the agenda for change. Our priorities are long-term, not just for the course of one Government.
And as we do this our message will be clear: together we will beat cancer.
Michelle Mitchell is chief executive of Cancer Research UK