Beating bowel cancer together

Party political conferences 2023 and bowel cancer - what you need to know

Monday 27 November 2023

We work hard to make sure that all politicians take the needs of bowel cancer patients seriously. Last month that work took us to the Labour, Conservative, SNP and DUP party conferences.

Every year UK political parties host conferences to set out their vision. They look carefully at the political market, host events and meet with key people. This year we were in the thick of it. We talked to politicians about what’s important to our bowel cancer community and how we can work together to achieve our vision of a future where nobody dies of the disease. 

We came away with a clear plan of what we need to do over the next 12 months, and we can only do it together.

Our message at the conferences focused on early diagnosis. Our Chief Executive Genevieve Edwards spoke at panel events on screening at Labour and Conservative Party conferences. We co-hosted these with a range of other cancer charities. Genevieve explained the importance of the national screening programmes as a way of testing healthy people to see if they show early signs of bowel cancer.

She set out how the bowel cancer screening programmes could be even better by inviting everyone over 50 in every UK nation to take part. As well as improving the sensitivity of the test and increasing uptake by making sure everyone who’s eligible can access it. Genevieve also explained how we need to invest in the NHS to get people access to diagnosis and treatment quickly after getting a positive test.

We didn’t just talk, we listened too. We met with and heard speeches from some of the most influential people in health policy. This included a whirlwind of senior politicians, representatives of medical professionals, leaders of patient groups, medical device companies and other health charities.

But what did the politicians say?

They all spoke about preventing more cancers and for the importance of early diagnosis. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced of a plan for a phased smoking ban - similar to New Zealand’s, which Labour pledged to support. If agreed by parliament, this could mean that people born after January 2009 will never legally be allowed to buy cigarettes. This could help prevent the 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK that are linked to smoking every year, and save hundreds of lives.

There were also pledges on early diagnosis with Labour promising to move the NHS away from being a “sickness service” by improving community health, prevention and detection. The Liberal Democrats went a step further, suggesting that access to cancer treatment within 62 days of diagnosis should be a legal right. But it’s important to keep in mind that in complex cases this may not always be possible.

Both the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) spoke about additional investment in their respective health services. From the SNP it was £300 million to help bring down waiting times in Scotland. The DUP suggested an additional one billion could be made available for the health service in Northern Ireland.

Overall, a lot of what was announced was welcome, but there’s still a long way to go. We’d like to thank everyone who supported the work that went into the conferences to make them such a success for us and our community. We know what we need to do, let’s get to it.



A photo of one of the panel discussions with the Bowel Cancer UK CEO Genevieve Edwards on the far left.

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