Britain Against Cancer Conference disappoints

Expectations were high ~

but didn’t deliver


Last year the audience was full of enthusiasm at the APPGC Britain Against Cancer Conference.                                      Delegates participated, learnt, exchanged views and sessions provided plenty  of  food for thought.

But  this year the formula has changed.  Instead of lively debates, we were asked to ‘submit questions in advance’ and had to endure the one-hour-get-it-all-in-module.

This is so 1980s, and it’s about time Macmillan (who now run this group), realised that people who come to their conferences don’t need trendy management tricks.  These are stuck in a time-warp, but unfortunately still used by some companies to run training courses for charities etc.    The formula worked 30 years ago, but we have moved on from there, and people no longer need encouragement to participate – it’s keeping their questions short that is the problem.  Una used to run this conference, and she realised that when you gather together MPs, Charity Executives and informed patients, you are going to get a useful dialogue going by just letting them get on with exchanging ideas.

Patient Voice in local, regional and national NHS decisions.

Baroness Masham was an excellent chair for this session, and her speaker was Angela Coulter from Dept. Health at University of Oxford.  But they were both up against time restrictions, and when the audience tried to ask questions the Baroness regretfully had to say there wasn’t time.

Ms Coulter produced an up-beat analysis of what the Health Bill might do, showing a positive side to the pages of blurb, which made some sense. She said she thought nothing much would change in the NHS, (was this because she knows the NHS doesn’t like change?),  and “Patients are the greatest resource we have”.

Talking over the clauses in the Bill, she said there should not be an exclusive focus on a single disease;  what patients want is well-co-ordinated holistic care.  Politicians haven’t done much explaining about what’s going to happen with this Bill, and Lansley hasn’t made this clear to NHS staff – yet.

Then, when we would all have like to question Ms Coulter, who seemed brimming with sensible advice, we were split up into the dreaded round tables to come up with ‘ideas’ .

We were given case studies to read (impossible – there was no time), and Breakthrough Breast Cancer,  who had been asked to organise the session, admitted they had been told to keep everything short – but then told they had to include speakers, workshop session, case study and wrap-up – all to be completed in 60 minutes.  This was a complete waste of Breakthrough’s time and expertise, and did no favours to the knowledgeable audience, all of whom could have been better employed questioning the Baroness and Ms Coulter, and gathering some of their expert opinions.

After all, the Baroness was off that afternoon to put forward an ammendment to the Health Bill in the House of Lords  – which we would have all liked to hear more about from someone at the sharp end.

There were murmurs around tables about ‘not enough time’.  One can only imagine that the huge Macmillan HQs cupboards are bursting with all the sheets of A1 paper they love to distribute for table ‘hosts’ to fill in. But come up with anything concrete – no.  Let’s hope that Macmillan will throw out the old formulas and bring in up-to-date debates, similar to previous conferences.

Panel Discussion

The afternoon started with a panel discussion from Prof. Sir Mike Richards, Prof. Steve Field and Dr. Frank Atherton, President of the Assn. of Directors of Public Health.

Mike Richards repeated the usual mantra about how we lag behind Europe in cancer survival.  Well, it’s about time the Dept. Health, National Cancer Action Team and Uncle Tom Cobley got on with doing something – not just talking.

Eurostar runs a slick service to the Continent;  there are plenty of low cost airlines zipping across the 21 miles of Channel, yet no-one seems to be running any exchange programmes – let alone asking patients if they would like to go for treatment to see and compare what is different and what could easily be copied.

Because treatment in Europe is not all about expensive drugs or equipment (although these are available), but much more about the approach to treating patients holistically.

But during the panel’s speaches, instead of being told of ‘goodies’ that were coming on-stream, we were treated to old but shocking statistics, such as  a quarter of cancer patients present as Emergencies;  plus the fact that GI Endoscopies were at the bottom of the table when it came to investigations.  We know this – let’s know what’s going to improve from a patients’ point of view.

The conference was supposed to be about Achieving Quality, and Getting cancer services right in the new NHS.  The only practical advice seemed to be Dr. Atherton’s four points:

  1. Health and Wealth Boards – get them to focus on cancer
  2. Better information about benchmarking
  3. Need to look at pathways in much greater degree
  4. and importance of Networking

The comments from the platform could have spiked a lively discussion.  Instead the audience had been asked to submit their questions in advance, and organisers had chosen selected ones.  Afterwards a patient went up to Mike Richards to say she felt frustrated.  She heard a lot about ‘patient involvement’, but whenever she tried to get involved, she seemed to be sent off in another direction, or not given any details as to how she could get involved.


The exhibition was well thought out, with interesting tables and staff eager to talk and inform.  I met Krish Shastri, the insurance guru, and we had a long discussion on how neither medical insurance companies nor oncologists let patients know that their insurance for cancer-related illness may well run out after five years.  Leaving patients floating around, either paying for themselves, or having to find ‘new’ doctors as their doctors were seeing them privately.

There was a real buzz in the room, and it showed that when you get a large group of intelligent people interested in cancer, there is a lot to be learnt from listening to them, and debating.

Let’s hope the conference goes back to that formula next year.

Deja Vue

Chillingly, reading my report on this conference last year I had mentioned that Andrew Lansley had placed great emphasis on ‘using the voluntary sector’ to a much greater extent.  Well, it was evident that Macmillan has got into bed very firmly with the Dept. Health/NHS – but is this what the volunteers who support this great charity really want?





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One thought on “Britain Against Cancer Conference disappoints

  1. Andrey Bogdan December 18, 2011 at 9:24 pm Reply

    NHS doesn’t like changes? Yes, changes with bring News and they don’t want it. “Patients are the greatest money resource that we have and we should keep it untouchable” For NHS stuff everything is clear and they are all following prescription that is written before. Like a theatre but we are all participants in this performance. NHS doesn’t have time for ill people any more. Baroness and Ms Coulter are in collusion. Prof. Sir Mike Richards, Prof. Steve Field and Dr. Frank Atherton, President of the Assn. of Directors of Public Health are all reading mantras ;).

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