Tunnah’s musings: Looking beneath the big issues in cancer

In his first musings of 2015, Paul Tunnah explains how a new initiative, Healthcare Partners, has been keeping him busy and how he hopes it can make a positive short-term impact on the lives of those fighting cancer.

Some of you may have noticed (at least I hope) that I didn’t publish a musings piece in January. In truth, it’s been a rather busy start to the year for pharmaphorum and I know it’s been the same for many of you.

As both the global publishing and media consulting sides of our business have continued to grow, and kept my diary full, we have also ventured into a much more UK-specific venture designed to drive collaboration across all healthcare stakeholders and address some of the major unmet needs that exist for patients. And we thought focusing on cancer would be an excellent starting point for ‘Healthcare Partners‘.

“At the risk of sounding like one of those viral Facebook ads, what happened next surprised me”


There are all kinds of challenges standing in the way of better cancer care, including some very UK-specific issues. Anyone with a passing interest in this area will have picked up on the furore around changes to the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) at the end of last year, with several high-profile treatments falling victim to its overspend and being delisted. The rationale is to focus spend on those treatments offering the most benefit for patients, but at the expense of those offering more ‘marginal’ benefit. Those definitions, and the evidence behind them, have since become the subject of much debate between the industry and the NHS (with the patient groups often in the middle).

So heading into the first advisory board meeting for Healthcare Partners I expected the CDF and market access for cancer drugs to be a major topic of debate – and potential focus for the initiative.

At the risk of sounding like one of those viral Facebook ads, what happened next surprised me.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, I had the privilege of discussing how Healthcare Partners could make a difference in cancer care with some of the most influential and informed people in the country – representatives from the government, NHS, patient organisations and the pharmaceutical industry. Unsurprisingly, CDF was, of course, a topic of debate, but the conclusion was to actually avoid focusing on the big issues like this, which require policy change to address – the reasons being two-fold.

First, there are a lot of ongoing initiatives that are trying to address high-level national issues around areas such as access to cancer medicines and levels of diagnosis, such as the new Cancer Strategy Taskforce, so there is no point replicating them. But secondly, and more importantly, such changes take time and so the short-term benefit to cancer patients can be limited.

“We want to identify and communicate these variations in cancer patient outcomes”


Instead, the meeting identified a pressing problem that could, potentially, be remedied much more quickly: regional variations in cancer care across the UK. Variations in diagnosis and awareness, variations in patient outcomes (survival and quality of life), variations in patient support for those living with cancer and variations in R&D innovation, including participation by patients in clinical trials.

To put this back in the context of market access, while there has been significant focus on eliminating variable access to cancer drugs within regions of the UK (often called ‘postcode prescribing’) there remain variations in all kinds of other aspects of cancer care. That’s not to say there are regions doing things really badly – they are all striving to do their best – but certain regions are doing really innovative things that are making a massive difference to cancer patients, often in isolation.

Summary thoughts from the first Healthcare Partners advisory board

This is good and bad in equal measure. It’s good that innovation in certain regions is finding smart ways to tackle unmet needs and improve patient outcomes in cancer. It’s fantastically good when it works really well and helps cancer patients live longer or have better quality of life. But it’s bad when no-one else is doing it – and sometimes when all it involves is no extra cost for other Trusts, but just some guidance on how to replicate it.

This is now the focus for Healthcare Partners.

We want to identify and communicate these variations in cancer patient outcomes – and the unmet needs driving them – whether they relate to survival or quality of life. We also want to identify and communicate innovative approaches that can make a difference – the activities that are changing the course of cancer patients’ lives for a handful of people in one region – and amplify their impact across the country. Of course, in doing so, we may occasionally look beyond the UK and find there are things going on in other countries that could also be quickly applied over here.

But the point is this: these are quick wins. They can help cancer patients in the next 12 months, maybe even in the next few months, if we can move quickly enough and have the right support.

And how do we do this? By curating information on variations in unmet needs, and the innovative initiatives that can address them; by communicating these through our channels and those of our partners; by bringing together our advisory board and supporters to help raise awareness of them, and by recognising the very best activities at regular educational meetings.

“They can help cancer patients in the next 12 months, maybe even in the next few months”


If we help just one cancer patient live longer and/or in more comfort, then I’ll be pleased. But I’d like to think we can help hundreds, or even thousands.

So if you know of an unrecognised unmet need or innovative initiative that needs to be amplified across the UK, then get in touch, as I’d love to hear from you. Or if you simply want to help us, then reach out – it’s called Healthcare Partners for a reason and we’re open to working with any partner who can bring something useful to the table.

I believe in the power of collaboration and I believe that together we can help cancer patients. Not just those who will be diagnosed in the coming years, but those who are fighting the disease right now.

Until next month, keep an eye on Healthcare Partners and stay well.

Visit the Healthcare Partners site to find out more and get involved.

About the author:

Paul Tunnah is CEO & Founder of pharmaphorum media, which facilitates productive engagement for pharma, bringing healthcare together to drive medical innovation. It combines industry-leading content and social media engagement services with the globally recognised news, information and insight portal pharmaphorum.com, working with pharmaceutical companies, service providers and broader healthcare organisations to help communicate their thought leadership and connect them with relevant stakeholders.

For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

Have your say: Where are the quick wins in UK cancer care?

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