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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

Tessa Jowell Centres of Excellence for brain tumour treatment and care in adults

by Professor Garth Cruickshank - Chair of our Scientific and Medical Advisory Board

The Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission announcement earlier this week outlining plans for a national network of Centres of Excellence for brain tumour treatment and care in adults, is welcome news.

The concept of medical Centres of Excellence is not new. The concept of Centres devoted to cancer treatment is also not new with the Sloan Kettering centres in the USA a much lauded and very successful example. However, the concept of such a Centre devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care of a single type of cancer, in this case of those diagnosed with a brain tumours is indeed a new concept and one that will be wonderful news to current patient and carers but also encouraging news to those 16,000 or more of us per year who may learn that we have this frightening diagnosis.

It is two years since the untimely death of Tessa Jowell who’s passage through the process of treatment of her malignant brain tumour, drew the attention of many, to her very human and personal response of hope, determination and purpose. She tasked those responsible to ensure that it was possible to go on from diagnosis “living well with cancer, not just dying from it”. And she stated that each person with these types of cancers should have access to “the latest and greatest science” through effective and rapid translation of research to the bedside. In the two-year period since her death, huge efforts across, scientists, clinicians, surgeons, charities, grant authorities, universities NHS Trusts and UK Governments, has culminated in a clear plan to realise Tessa Jowell’s dream. 

These Tessa Jowell Centres will be initiated from existing NHS units able to demonstrate, manage and deliver these new high standards of care and particularly clinical research, both as dedicated units, but also crucially as part of a truly collaborative UK effort - an element  that has been sorely missing in the past. A process involving all stakeholders, great and small, has laboured to produce this challenge to these Units in a clear and transparent process. There is an onus on NHS Trusts, to show leadership to enable the huge benefits that come from committed NHS support to advance the cause of these patients. One only needs to look at how the NHS is currently delivering in the Covid-19 pandemic, to understand what this commitment could mean for brain tumour patients. As, like many cancers, brain tumours not only cause physical ill health and disability but also, brain tumours uniquely impact on family lives, like no other cancer, in that they impact on the ‘mind’ of patients to cause untold stress to them, and to their families.

Given the challenge, given the plan, what are the chances of success?  Tessa Jowell’s impact has been like no other that we have seen. Her televised speech in the House of Lords not only reached many but also importantly reached deep into the psyche of government, institutions, researchers and clinicians and at a personal level that has gone a long way to dissolve long standing barriers to collaborative working. So much so that the message has reached deep into areas of the research community previously unaware of the challenges of these ‘brain-related’ tumours and indeed the opportunities for them to be involved and innovate effectively.

The speech and Tessa Jowell’s ultimate death shook those whose job it is to plan and deliver health research, and health care, and forced them to ask themselves why Tessa Jowell had needed to be so explicit about what was required to do – now, and in the future to make some progress where little has been made despite so many efforts in the last 30 years by brain tumour clinicians, the research community, Brain Tumour Research and other charities. Indeed, building on our campaigning work, the Petitions Committee report, the 2016 Westminster Hall debate and the Task & Finish Group, Tessa’s speech was a wake-up call to all of us in the field including scientists, clinicians, surgeons, charities, grant authorities, universities NHS Trusts and UK Governments to up our game and work collaboratively together to support this program. Our Chief Executive Sue Farrington Smith MBE is proud to represent our community on the Mission’s Joint Strategy Board.

The Centre concept will surely be a winner for patients and as we know from many other cancers high quality focused care allows the best research and best outcomes for patients.

The Tessa Jowell Centre announcement offers not only hope to patients but also to the brain tumour community, belief that out of such a sad inception, and a current time of hiatus, we can surely see the chance of something transformative about to happen.

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