At the beginning of October, our Policy and Campaigns team attended the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. It was a fantastic opportunity to fly the flag for the brain tumour community. We also highlighted the challenges that people face in getting a brain tumour diagnosis and the barriers that exist to accessing care.
It was important to hear about the current Government’s plans for health and care for the next few months, and if re-elected, for the future. We had the chance to engage with MPs, meet with other charity partners and contribute to panel discussions. Overall, it was a great opportunity to make sure The Brain Tumour Charity are in a position to have meaningful conversations with policy makers.
Among rising waiting lists and NHS industrial action, the key health and care messages across the conference focused on fixing the workforce crisis, embedding prevention across public health, and investing in technology to support better care. We must ensure that people diagnosed with a brain tumour are remembered in national health plans and we’ll continue to hold the Conservatives to account on this if they’re re-elected.
Fixing the workforce crisis
In his address to the conference, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, celebrated the Long-Term Workforce Plan that was published in June. Steve Barclay spoke briefly about introducing more training opportunities, one of the three core pillars to the plan alongside retention and reform. He announced that more medical school places would be ready for the next academic year. However, any plans for retaining current staff were not touched on.
Having a fully staffed, effective and sustainable NHS workforce is crucial for people with brain tumours. Everybody diagnosed with a brain tumour should have holistic support from multidisciplinary teams across their pathway of care. However, 4 in 10 people who took our Improving Brain Tumour Care surveys reported not having access to a CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist).
Having the support of key stakeholders at the conference’s fringe events to ensure wraparound care is provided for everyone is encouraging. This wraparound care, however, will need investment in other parts of the workforce too. Speakers at one panel event spoke about the importance of not just investing in clinical roles, but allied health professionals, admin and management roles too to ensure that patients are getting the best possible experience. This was something we have previously highlighted in our blog about the Workforce Plan, and we look forward to seeing these plans implemented to benefit the brain tumour community.
Getting brain tumours on the agenda
A major public health prevention strategy was announced by the Prime Minister in his closing speech. While at conference, we definitely picked up the underlying tone of prevention of ill health. So, we took every opportunity to highlight the importance of not leaving non-preventable cancers, like brain tumours, behind.
We had a very positive conversation with Elliot Colburn MP (Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer), Dr Katharine Halliday (President of The Royal College of Radiologists) and Dr Owen Jackson (Director of Policy at Cancer Research UK). During which, we stressed the importance of making sure that brain tumours and other cancers that aren’t influenced by the external environment are getting a faster diagnosis, optimised pathways and overall better care. We had a very positive response highlighting that more can be done in expanding non-specific referral pathways, and ensuring that GP direct access to MRI scanning is universally implemented. It was great to have commitments to have further conversations and we look forward to working with key stakeholders to move these plans forward.
In a session looking at fixing the cancer crisis in the UK, Elliot Colburn MP spoke about the workforce being the crux of the issues surrounding cancer diagnosis and care. The Royal College of Radiologists too, highlighted that, while there are pockets of good practice across the country, radiologists are under pressure. The focus on training and retaining staff would be a good starting point, but the proof will be in the implementation of the workforce plan.
Innovation, trials and getting more vital treatments to those who need them most
As part of the plans for easing pressures on the NHS and supporting patients to get the best possible care, embedding technology in the NHS and bolstering the UK’s clinical trials landscape were significant topics of discussion.
In his main speech, Steve Barclay announced a welcome £30m investment, so the NHS can access the latest technology to save staff time and help cut waiting lists. Part of this spending is set to go towards investing in AI and 3D checks to speed up cancer diagnosis and support better care in the community.
But this is only one part of the puzzle. As well as new innovation to help NHS staff, the brain tumour community needs early access to developing innovations in treatment and care. Throughout multiple fringe events, Lord O’Shaughnessy’s review of commercial clinical trials in the UK was highlighted as an important first step in placing the UK as a competitive force in life sciences as in other European nations.
In a panel discussion about this, the conversation centred around removing the barriers faced by the pharmaceutical industry when setting up trials in the UK. This included releasing funds, ending long delays in the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) application process, attracting world-class researchers to Britain and recruiting more patients onto trials. The O’Shaughnessy review was seen as a positive step, but, as with the workforce plan, the challenge will be in implementing it.
For our community, having access to potentially life-prolonging treatments in the UK is a priority. We asked the panel what further action research charities like us can do to encourage more industry investment and whether there any partnerships that we could engage with that would help this. Elliot Colburn MP was keen to meet to discuss this point with us further, particularly about how more people with brain tumours can be enrolled into clinical trials in the UK. We look forward to working with him further on this.