Thoughts from the Labour Party Conference

6 min read

Our Policy and Public Affairs Manager Thomas Brayford (pictured with Shadow Minister for Health, Karin Smyth) shares his thoughts after attending the Labour Party Conference.

Party Conferences give us the opportunity to engage with charity sector colleagues and politicians across England and the devolved nations, and I was pleased, as always, to represent Brain Tumour Research at the four-day Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting, was very much in demand throughout conference. On day one, at a fringe event titled “Putting innovation at the heart of the NHS”, he joined a panel with Dr Richard Torbett, Chief Executive, The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and Shaun Walsh, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigning, Cancer Research UK.

Mr Streeting said that Labour hopes to drive innovation within the NHS by better working with the private sector, as well as with universities and charities.

Describing Labour’s health policy, he said that Labour’s reform agenda encapsulates three big shifts:

  • A shift from an excessive focus on hospitals to a greater focus on the community
  • A shift from analogue to digital that includes harnessing the strengths of the life sciences
  • A shift from the NHS being a sickness service to one of prevention and the promotion of good health

Dr Richard Corbett echoed one of Brain Tumour Research’s big asks that there needs to be better join up within the sector to deliver innovation, and he highlighted good decision-making institutions as vital to this.

Shaun Walsh looked back at the progress made, for example in cancer treatment, while noting that the UK’s cancer survival rates lag behind other countries, namely Australia, and said that early diagnosis was crucial.

I also attended “Cancer Screening: Using Innovation to help the NHS Tackle Inequalities and Save More Lives”.

The panel consisted of Chiara de Biase (Prostate Cancer UK), Genevieve Edwards (Bowel Cancer UK), Samantha Dixon (Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust) and Shadow spokesperson for Health, Baroness Merron.

It was great to see so many charities featured on the panel, all speaking with one voice.

The general feeling was that innovation in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment is ongoing, and therefore there also needs to be innovation in cancer policies and care delivery. On behalf of Brain Tumour Research and the Less Survivable Cancer Taskforce, I raised the issue of five-year survival rates because just 5% of glioblastoma (GBM) patients survive more than five years.

Baroness Merron, who I had briefed previously for her intervention during Lord Hunt’s oral question on brain tumours in April, said that Mr Streeting was very engaged on the issue of brain tumours not least because of the great sadness Labour has experienced losing a former General Secretary, Baroness Margaret McDonagh, and a former Secretary of State Dame Tessa Jowell.

Thomas with Baroness Merron

I also had the chance to meet with Councillor Jeannie Bell. She was diagnosed with two meningioma brain tumours at the age of 41, and is absolutely determined to campaign for more awareness and better outcomes for brain tumour patients. She is keen to table a council motion on this issue.


Councillor Jeannie Bell

The highlight of day two was listening to Wes Streeting in conversation with the journalist Andrew Marr at another packed event.

Mr Streeting said that one aspect of reform is an improved relationship between the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care. He argued that “the economy and the health of the population are inextricable”.

I also met with Shadow Minister for Exports Afzal Khan. He told me how he fondly remembered Mo Mowlam and the great work she did for this country. In her memory, he said: “We need to find a cure for brain tumours. They must be made a clinical priority.”

The third day began with a meeting with Paul Sweeney MSP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health in Scotland. We talked about the potential mental health consequences of a brain tumour diagnosis.

Paul said that patients need to be better listened to and supported. He added: “It is about time we made brain tumours a priority.”

Following the meeting, I attended another health fringe event titled “What could a Labour government do to improve the performance of health and care services?”

On the panel was Dr Paul Williams, Division President UK at Maximus; Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Minister for Social Care; Rachel Sylvester, Political Columnist at The Times; and Sam Freedman, Senior Fellow, Institute for Government.

A key topic was technological advances, but there were some disagreements about the process of delivery and what should be implemented. Ms Sylvester praised the use of patient data, genomics, robotic surgery, and AI for diagnostics. Dr Williams and Mr Freedman were more wary and emphasised basic reforms. Dr Williams also stressed that the workforce needed to be supported to adapt to technology.

Mr Gwynne outlined his ambition to “make England a Marmot nation” that prioritises prevention, tackles health inequalities and delivers care “from the cradle to the grave”. Dr Williams and Sam Freedman advocated for better management and leadership within the NHS.

I also caught up with Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Tan Dhesi, to tell him about our work. He gladly took a briefing and said he’d look at the report recommendations made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours (APPGBT). 

Thomas with Tan Dhesi

Later, Brain Tumour Research was involved in two fantastic events at conference, the Neuro Reception and the Health Charity Showcase. You can read about those events here.


Thomas (left) at the Neuro Reception

I spoke to councillors, many MPs and Lords about more awareness, better training, about the mental health toll of a brain tumour diagnosis, unblocking the funding bottleneck and the important recommendations of the APPGBT’s report. There’s a political will, but from will to action is a journey we must go on together.

We look forward to having many more conversations over the coming months as we look to launch our manifesto.

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