Conservative Party Conference

5 min read

Our Policy and Public Affairs Manager Thomas Brayford shares a personal view after attending the Conservative Party Conference.

Conference gives us the opportunity to engage with charity sector colleagues and politicians across England and the devolved nations, and I was pleased to represent Brain Tumour Research at the four-day event in Manchester.

The main focus of day one was the levelling-up agenda in healthcare. Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now, chaired the event, with panellists agreeing that social determinants greatly impact health inequalities. Professor Kamila Hawthorne MBE, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, believed that GPs were best placed to spearhead the levelling up process, but highlighted that their current workload means they do not have the capacity to do so. Dr Ben Spencer, MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, said one possible solution was to give patients more opportunity to shop around for their health services to help drive standards up.

Day two began with a fringe event on the NHS workforce, ‘Hire, Train, Retain: Future-proofing the NHS workforce’. Speaking were Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care; Adam Sampson, Chief Executive of the Association of Optometrists; Ann-Louise Ward, Chief Operating Officer of Maggie’s; and James White, Head of National Influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society. The panellists agreed that when looking at the NHS workforce, the Government needs to focus on retention, not recruitment. Dr Gulhane added that there was a lack of joined-up thinking between training and recruitment and retention. Ms Ward stressed the impact that culture and environment has on employee morale. She stated: “The better we treat our healthcare professionals, the better the outcomes will be.”

Dr Sandesh Gulhane MP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care

My contribution to this interesting panel was to stress the importance of the Government building research capacity, whilst encouraging and retaining talent. James White agreed saying that without this “we won’t get the treatments and cures we really need.”

Afterwards, I was able to thank the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care for his contributions to the Wear A Hat Day debate in the Scottish Parliament. It was promising to hear Mr Gulhane restate his support of the brain tumour community, saying: “We need better research for diagnosis and treatment but at the same time we need to do better caring for those with a brain tumour.”

I also attended an event titled ‘Let Me Steer: The shift to patient driven healthcare’, during which James Morris, MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, said that “the UK needs to be a great place for clinical trials that are accessible to those that wish to participate in them”. Panellists agreed that there is a postcode lottery when it comes to delivering patient-centred care and there were call for the approach to healthcare to change because patients are too often being left finding their own way around a condition. Patient empowerment is an absolute necessity, but it will only come through better training for staff and better signposting and support for patients.

James Morris MP

James Morris MP is a member of the Health and Social Care Committee and after the event I briefed him on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours (APPGBT) report highlighting some of the key statistics around this devastating disease. I was pleased to hear Mr Morris say he was very keen to amplify the voices of the brain tumour community through the Committee.

I also met with Councillor Rue Grewal, District Councillor for Carpenders Park Ward. Rue was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. She told me that she believed health professionals should engage more closely with patients to gain a better understanding of diseases, saying that there’s nothing more powerful and useful than to hear about someone’s lived experience of cancer. Rue is a councillor but also a health campaigner. She said that change cannot come soon enough for those living with cancer.

Clinical trials were on the agenda and on day three of the conference, I attended an event chaired by Dr Jennifer Harris, Director of Research and Development Policy at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, entitled ‘The Road to Superpower Status: The UK as a hotbed for clinical trials’. The panel included Health Minister Lord Markham; Aaron Bell, MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme; Claire Brading, Managing Director of UCB in UK and Ireland; and Dr Owen Jackson, Director of Policy for Cancer Research UK.

There was consensus that clinical trials are the cornerstone of the UK achieving its global science superpower status. As was stated at similar events, panellists believed the O’Shaughnessy review was central to achieving this, and should be delivered to achieve effective, short-term change. Aaron Bell, who sits on the Science and Technology Select Committee, said it’s a positive step that the Committee now has “a dedicated department to shadow” but said that the current situation with clinical trials was “clearly of concern” and that we needed to find a way “to empower the NHS to say yes more quickly”. Dr Owen Jackson called for a cultural change for research, saying, “three quarters of clinicians we asked said it’s getting harder to do research”.

Health Minister, Lord Markham, showed he understood the problem when he said that in order to be a superpower we need “to ensure we have rapid access of the uptake of new medicines” adding he would like to see “a joined-up system from research to marketplace”. This year, one of Brain Tumour Research’s key campaigning calls has been for a research funding system which is joined up from basic science through to clinical trials.

Lord Markham with Thomas

We had the opportunity to highlight a funding question during the panel when I asked: “Five years after the Government ring-fenced £40 million for brain tumour research, following the death of the late Dame Tessa Jowell, just £10.7 million has been spent. Does the panel agree to become a science and research superpower we need to make sure we make the now work first?”

Lord Markham stated that the money is allocated, and he will ensure it will be spent. At a later event, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care went further still. In a meeting with charity colleagues from the MND Association, we discussed the ring-fenced funding for both disease areas. Mr Barclay stated, it was “a priority to unblock this funding bottleneck”. You can read more about the meeting here.

Overall, it has been a productive party conference and we look forward to reporting back from Liverpool for the Labour Party Conference. 

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