Scottish Parliament debates brain tumours

5 min read

The Scottish Parliament this week held a debate on brain tumours during Brain Tumour Awareness Month.

The Brain Tumour Awareness Month debate was held yesterday (Tuesday 26th March) and was introduced by Foysol Choudhury MSP (pictured below).

Foysol Choudhry

Mr Choudhury opened the debate by thanking colleagues who had signed his Parliamentary Motion, which noted that brain tumours must be treated as a clinical and strategic priority by government, as a "cancer of unmet need", as well as those speaking in the debate.

Foysol Choudhury MSP also thanked Brain Tumour Research for supporting and attending the debate, and welcomed Brain Tumour Research supporter Nadia Majid (pictured below) who has campaigned to raise awareness of brain tumours since her son Rayhan sadly passed away. He went on to praise the work done by the charity in funding cutting-edge research and supporting those living with a brain tumour. He concluded by saying: “Brain tumours have been ignored for far too long…it is time to act.”

Nadia Majid

The debate saw cross-party contribution from 10 MSPs, as well as the Minister, and saw the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care Neil Gray remain in the chamber to listen to the opening speeches.

Kenneth Gibson MSP said that awareness of this devastating disease remains astonishingly low and that brain cancer remains a cancer of unmet need. This can only be rectified by identifying gaps in knowledge of brain tumour, through more clinical research. Mr Gibson said the Scottish Government had taken positive steps to address cancers of unmet need through advancing research and improving diagnostics. Mr Gibson said that Brain Tumour Research’s work was invaluable, especially the life-saving research which is essential to patient well-being. He also gave a special mention for Brain Tumour Research’s most recent petition, which received more than 81,000 signatures. He said: “I hope this will change attitudes towards the disease and highlight the importance of funding to support patients, and increase research.”

Jackson Carlaw MSP began his remarks by stating that every 33 minutes an individual in the UK is informed they’re living with a brain tumour, and around 45 people are diagnosed every day. Of those diagnosed with a high-grade brain tumour, 60% will not survive the course of a year. Mr Carlaw talked about the cross-party work he’d undertaken with Foysol and Paul Sweeney MSP to raise awareness of less survivable cancers, working with the Less Survivable Cancer Taskforce. Mr Carlaw paid tribute to his constituent, Fraser McCallister, a schoolboy who tragically died after his battle with a rare brain cancer. Fraser reached out to Amy Callaghan MSP, who herself had suffered with a brain tumour. She gave him advice and support that helped him at the time.

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Jackie Baillie said she was shocked to discover that brain tumours kill more children than leukaemia, that they kill more women under 35 than breast cancer, and they kill more men under 70 than prostate cancer. Ms Baillie expressed concern that treatment options have seen little advancement for decades. She called on the Scottish Government to use the strengths of the Scottish research and life sciences sector to make improvements. The Shadow Cabinet Secretary underlined that: “Brain tumours should be treated as a clinical and strategic priority by the Scottish Government with funding to support discovery science and improved access to tissue and imaging method.” And that: “We need to ensure that there is a greater capacity through both people and infrastructure if brain tumour research is to realise its full potential.”

Shadow Health Minister Carol Mochan MSP continued on this theme, saying that it was important to progress in the area of research. She added: “The number of members in the debate, this evening show that this is a very important discussion and it must be something we work on a cross-party basis to ensure that we can see improvements in the statistics for brain tumours.”

Beatrice Wishart MSP (pictured below) referred to Brain Tumour Research’s Manifesto, It’s time to do things differently. In particular, the declaration that brain tumours are a clinical priority, to approach improving options and outcomes for brain tumour patients with appropriate urgency, and increased participation of adult and paediatric brain tumour patients in clinical trials. Ms Wishart also praised the work of the University of Plymouth for their ongoing research into developing a non-invasive blood test to help diagnose and classify meningiomas. She said that it would “spare future patients from having to undergo invasive surgery, which is what happened to one of my daughters”. She looked forward to seeing more such work being conducted in Scotland.

Beatrice Wishart MSP


Ms Wishart said she was pleased to announce that she had garnered support from across the chamber to form a Cross-Party Group on Brain Tumours. Subject to the necessary formalities the new group shall be underway soon, with Brain Tumour Research offering the Secretariat. Thanks to Ben MacPherson MSP, Finlay Carson MSP, Jackson Carlaw MSP. Colin Smyth MSP, Foysol Choudhury MSP and Jackie Baillie MSP for lending their support.

The group will raise awareness of the issues facing the brain tumour community in order to improve research, diagnosis, information, support, treatment and care outcomes.

Other notable contributions included Alexander Stewart MSP who recalled many of the same issues being discussed at the 2017 debate on brain tumours. He exclaimed: “Here we are seven years later still saying brain tumours are still a cancer of unmet need.” Colin Smyth MSP said that the Brain Tumour Research Scottish parliamentary reception left a huge impression on him, especially Patron Theo Burrell’s speech. He said: “Theo was honest but like many others determined for change.” Reflecting on the event, he said: “What united all the brain tumour stories was the need to do more.” Finlay Carson MSP echoed Mr Smyth’s comments, saying: “Theo speaks with enormous courage about her daily battles. To share her story in such a candid fashion is truly remarkable.” Rachel Hamilton MSP said that the statistics suggest many of us will know someone living with a brain tumour, but those that have received a diagnosis seem to be treated differently to those with other cancers – this needed to change.

Responding to the debate Minister Jenni Minto thanked everyone for their support during the Wear A Hat Day photo call, as well as their contributions to the debate. The Minister gave a special mention to Theo Burrell’s speech at the Brain Tumour Research parliamentary reception. She said: “To say that you could have heard  a pin drop is not underestimating the power of her story and her contribution to that event.” Ms Minto said that she will be very happy to come along to the Cross-Party Group on Brain Tumours once it has been established.

Wear A Hat Day photo call at Holyrood


Thomas Brayford, our Policy and Public Affairs Manager, said: “It was great to see so many MSPs participate in this important brain tumour debate. A special thanks to Foysol Choudhury MSP and Beatrice Wishart MSP for all you continue to do for the brain tumour community in Scotland. The announcement of a Cross-Party Group on Brain Tumours is welcome, and we look forward to offering the Secretariat for the group. The reality is brain tumour survival remains low, and we must do more to move the dial forward to see the results we need.”

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