7 Questions: Nick Bason on bowel cancer

pharmaphorum speaks to the head of policy and communications at Bowel Cancer UK about the charity’s progress in fighting the disease and the focus for future campaigns.

What prompted you to join Bowel Cancer UK?

I joined Bowel Cancer UK around three-and-a-half years ago. I had worked in health policy before, and wanted to stay in the sector. Bowel Cancer UK is a great organisation, with a hugely dedicated team and we are very ambitious. The policy and campaigning work of the organisation is very well respected and I wanted to be part of that.

Your charity has been established for 26 years. What advances have there been in bowel cancer treatment over that time?

In the past 26 years there have been significant advances. Mortality rates from bowel cancer have reduced, and there have been developments in the types of drugs and surgery that are available. However, survival rates are still too low. Bowel cancer is preventable, treatable and curable. We need to do more in order to save lives.

What are Bowel Cancer UK’s priorities for the next five years?

We are transforming what we do in order to become the leading research and campaigning charity on bowel cancer in the UK. Our focus is on championing early diagnosis, improving best treatment and care, and enabling research so we can make breakthroughs in understanding what needs to be done in order to save lives.

What are your views on the Cancer Drugs Fund?

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) was always intended to be a temporary solution. We welcome the increased access to potentially life-saving drugs that it created, but what we want to see is this access crystallised in long-term policy. We also need stronger evaluation of the impact that the CDF has had. We know how many people have had treatment via the CDF, but very little about what has happened to those people since. This evaluation has to be built in to any long-term systemic change.

What is your approach to partnering with pharmaceutical companies?

Of course we recognise that pharmaceutical companies have a role to play in saving lives from bowel cancer. Industry is an important player when looking at improving treatment and care, and sits alongside charities, government, health bodies, clinical bodies and other experts.

Does the NHS have the potential to equal the best cancer services in the world?

The NHS definitely has the potential to have the best cancer services in the world. One of the significant challenges we currently face is the fact that a lot of services have become disjointed, and patients often fall between the cracks between, for example, presentation at GPs and diagnostic testing, or treatment and ongoing care and support. We need to make sure the system is joined up and works better for patients.

Fundraising and awareness campaigns are a big part of the charity’s work. Can you talk us through some of your most successful initiatives?

Our most successful campaigns are those that cut across awareness, policy and fundraising. In 2013 we launched a major campaign called Never Too Young, looking at the experiences of people diagnosed with bowel cancer under the age of 50. While this is a relatively small group of people – around 2,100 per year – they have a very different experience of the health system to people over 50 with bowel cancer. Their voices were not being heard in clinical and public policy discussions, so we wanted to understand more about their experiences. Two years on from the launch, we are seeing real change in research, clinical guidance and public policy as a result of our campaign. We also know that patients look at our work in that area and feel that their experiences are reflected in our work. That is extremely important to us.

About the interviewee:

Nick Bason is head of policy & communications at Bowel Cancer UK and leads its work on government relations, public policy, campaigns and communications. Nick is also on the Executive Group of the Patients Involved in NICE charity coalition. Prior to Bowel Cancer UK, Nick worked in a range of policy areas, including health, welfare reform, employment and consumer financial regulation.

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