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My view of the Britain Against Cancer conference

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • kris griffin BVC

By Kris Griffin

This was the busiest Britain Against Cancer conference to date. The hall was packed and the exhibition space heaving with exhibitors and delegates. Had the election brought people out? The chasm that opens next May could realise plenty of opportunities. 

The conference was chaired by the suave, authoritative figure of John Baron MP, again in his guise as Chair of the All Party Political Group on Cancer (APPGC). After opening remarks from John, Simon Stevens, Chief Executive NHS England announced plans for 1 year survival rates to be added to Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) delivery dashboard –  this is a positive development allowing us to compare CCGs and focus on the areas that need the most support.

The rest of Stevens’ delivery was more of an overview with one eye firmly on 2020. He covered childhood obesity and improvements in radiotherapy and diagnosis. He advocated a focus on coming to sensible agreements with pharma and promised to set up a new task force with a view to delivering cancer treatment through 2020 and beyond. 

Secretary of State for Health, The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt MP; rolled his sleeves up and told us that we have the best hospitals, doctors and research but we have the lowest survival rates for cancer. He suggested this was a paradox. There would be investment into genome research (where data could be linked to individual records) and a focus on prevention and early diagnosis. We would build our improved cancer strategy on four pillars: money, new models of care, innovation and culture (improved accountability and transparency). 

The Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham MP,  condemned the Coalition of missing targets and stalling the progress on cancer treatment. He promised a new cancer strategy within 6 months of forming a government with a view to being the best in Europe. He wanted to give children a healthier start in life, tackle tobacco related harm and will bring plain tobacco packaging in. He felt that no child should leave education without being able to recognise early signs of cancer and paid tribute to Stephen Sutton and the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust. 

He felt it indefensible to take money from one health-pot (the Cancer Drugs Fund - CDF) to put into another; referring to radiotherapy and surgery being treated as second class treatments. A Labour government would replace the CDF with a Cancer Treatment Fund, this would cover treatment and not just drugs. Ultimately he wants equality across the cancer board. The fund would increase from £280m to £330m, there would have to be cuts to drugs to provide more money to other treatments. 

As someone with (Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia) CML who campaigns for newly diagnosed patients this is a disaster, it could mean that even less drugs are available in 1 year than there are now. CML treatment is at the forefront of the war on cancer. For generations we wished for a tablet that could cure the patient, now it’s here we make it difficult to obtain. There is much reflection to be had.

Finally, Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer for NHS England, presented on the inequalities faced by older people affected by cancer, late diagnosis and reduced access to treatment. He felt there should be more transparency on quality and outcomes and praised patient power. He was the only speaker who used the word cure and I applaud him for that. 

It was great to see Leukaemia Care amongst the exhibitors this year, with such a large turnout they were attracting lots of positive attention and I had to fight my way through people just to say hi. The conference felt bigger in every way. Part of the election battles will be fought over health and it's important that we don't allow our politicians to forget that we, patients, are real people and not simply statistics on a piece of paper that pass their desks. It was important that we all came together to show our teeth.

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