One Cancer Voice campaigners pictured with Steve Brine MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care committee, and a copy of the petition
On 22 March 2023, around 80 representatives from dozens of cancer charities and a selection of MPs gathered outside Parliament with a unified message for the Prime Minister: it’s time to address the cancer emergency in England and take action to improve outcomes for people affected by cancer.
Although we all have a common goal and hope to see fewer lives affected by cancer, charities within this sector are often engaged in separate projects and issue areas.
However, the worsening state of cancer care in England has mandated an unprecedented level of coalition work. It’s time to come together and stand with those affected by cancer.
Shaun Walsh, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning at Cancer Research UK, marked the significance of this event: “We are sending a single message to government about the things that we know need to change in order to improve cancer care and survival in this country.”
A cancer crisis
Despite the amazing efforts of NHS staff, England is facing a cancer emergency – and has been for quite some time.
Patients are experiencing some of the worst cancer waiting times on record, there is a significant backlog of patients, and the patient experience is worsening. The impact of this care deficit is being felt by families across the nation.
But with sufficient leadership, this is fixable.
We were promised a strategy to address this crisis over a year ago. In a speech at the Francis Crick Institute on World Cancer Day 4 February 2022, the then Health and Social Care Secretary, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, declared ‘a war on cancer’.
This ‘war’ included a nation-wide call for evidence and an ambitious 10-Year Cancer Plan for England, a new vision for how the UK would lead the world in cancer care.
Over 5,000 people affected by cancer – including several Cancer Research UK volunteers – responded to that call for evidence, telling their own personal stories in the hopes of improving cancer outcomes.
Yet, here we are, a year later, and there is no plan. The UK Government also recently announced in January that they will be instead publishing a five-year general ‘Major Conditions Strategy’ – a short-term, catch-all plan rather than the targeted cancer response we need.
One in two of us is going to get cancer, so it’s important that we get serious about it.
Thomas Brayford, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at Brain Tumour Research
Uniting as One Cancer Voice
In response, more than 60 cancer charities, including Cancer Research UK, have united as the coalition One Cancer Voice to petition the Prime Minister for fully funded, ambitious, long-term action on cancer in England.
The content of the new Major Conditions Strategy needs to be bold and inclusive of the evidence from the cancer community, and the UK Government needs to strive towards a longer-term, more comprehensive strategy.
In just four weeks, our petition was signed by more than 76,000 people – speaking as one voice for those affected by cancer.
Last Wednesday, members of the cancer charity community exchanged stories about what the One Cancer Voice petition means to them and their hopes for the future of cancer care.
For Mercia, a campaigner for Cancer Research UK, this petition is deeply personal: “I signed the One Cancer Voice petition because I’m a cancer survivor. I survived cancer twice. And also, because I’m a paediatric nurse, and I’ve seen too many patients waiting for cancer treatment.”
Uzmah, a campaigner for Brain Tumour Research, recalled her family’s experience with cancer: “Having lost my husband to glioblastoma, terminal brain cancer, and having seen my father-in-law go through the same disease, I’ve seen no change in the past 11 years at least.”
In a moment of unity all attendees carried a box with the names of the 76,578 signees from College Green to Rishi Sunak’s Office at 10 Downing Street. The petition was received by a member of the Prime Minister’s staff and presented to him for review.
Together, with more than 60 different charity partners and thousands of supporters across the nation, we have raised our voices, asking the UK Government to address the cancer emergency in England and give patients the ‘world-leading’ services they were promised. We know that this is a fixable challenge.
Thank you to all those who signed and shared our petition. This was truly a collaborative effort and a nation-wide statement for the future of cancer care.
As Jo Taylor, Senior Campaigns Manager at Pancreatic Cancer UK, summarised: “Every signature adds up to a future we want to see.”
Now, it’s time for the Prime Minister to help make that vision a reality.