Dear Mr Hunt,
When I was aged 26, My Mum died from ovarian cancer after a 4-month battle with the illness. The year before, my older sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and remains in remission. Last year, I cared for my Uncle Billy in his last days of life having been diagnosed with stomach cancer.
What I have learnt from the pain of cancer being someone affected by it mentally, is that it really does not discriminate. My Mum was white of Irish decent, my uncle black African and my sister like me… mixed-race (white and black). Cancer in my life, has had no boundaries when it comes to colour.
There isn’t a day I do not think about My Mum and those others I love and care about who have been affected by cancer including some of my closest friends parents, but I’m a believer in not crying over spilt milk and try to make some good out of the bad.
It was for this reason that I accepted the role of Ambassador, for the National BME Cancer Alliance. It’s a British coalition of some 20 charities all working together for the greater good, within the Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
It may be too late for My Mum and Uncle Billy whose backgrounds fall into the BME Cancer Voice awareness campaign, but it is not for the likes of my sister and improving the health outcome for her and others.
It was Paula Lloyd Knight, Associate Director (Patient Experience) of the NHS National Cancer Action Team who read one of my blogs I had written on the subject of cancer and asked if I would support the BME Cancer Voice campaign. My answer, being obvious.
Part of NCAT’s remit has been to support the National BME Cancer Alliance (BME Cancer Voice), Paula also being co-chair of the alliance along with Orin Lewis OBE of ACLT (promoting bone marrow & blood donation).
I attended the House of Lords last year and House of Commons this year with prominent politicians of all parties and colours, in support of the alliance’s vision to collaboratively work together with the shared goal of improving cancer outcomes for the communities My Mum, sister and uncle come from.
So, you can imagine how upset I was to hear recently that your department (the National Health Service) has decided to disband the National Cancer Action Team at the beginning of April with no replacement.
This means that, all the GOOD work the alliance’s 20 charities have done so far and I and others have clearly benefitted from will no longer have a voice. Black and Minority Ethnic British People, will no longer have an equal footing like that of the mainstream charities.
I am not naïve to not predict your response to me which I hope will come personally as the Secretary of State, and not passed down the departmental chain of command. I am passionate about leadership, in that it is ‘top down’ not ‘bottom up’.
I have taken the time to write to you, it would be courteous to reply personally to me as the UK Government Health Secretary.
1. Funding – I understand we are in a time of austerity, but you cannot put a financial cap on cancer within the Black and Minority Ethnic communities. It really is priceless.
2. Mainstream Cancer Charities – I know of the differences between the large organisations we all know in Britain and which I support financially each month to care for others and research cancer, but they are not and cannot be a ‘one pill’ fits all.
The reason 20 BME cancer charities have come together, is because rightly or wrongly the main ones are not offering BME people the service they need or indeed deserve. I think you would agree that when it comes to cancer, party political differences really should be left aside.
Like the alliance, I too believe Mr Hunt that MORE not LESS should be done to cut the health inequalities experienced by BME people affected by cancer. Closing the National Cancer Action Team in April, is yet another inequality these communities face.
I can’t stress it enough, but cancer doesn’t discriminate and I’ve been quite open with you about this and my personal experiences.
My letter to you is that you personally as head of the health service need to make sure that, the support the National BME Cancer Alliance (the coalition of 20 charities) has had remains.
I can see no reason why the NCAT brief cannot be given a 6-month lifeline so that proper consultations can take place, or failing this that another NHS department cannot take over the invaluable support Paula Lloyd Knight’s team has given to the BME Cancer Voice experience.
The alliance includes Chinese charities, of which I know your wife originates. My point being, it can affect us all in some way and I am writing to you as Secretary of Health but also as a husband and father.
If just one other family can be spared the suffering and pain my family and I have endured through awareness etc, then my letter to you has done some good.
Being all things British, I am more than aware that politicians are experts in diverting awkward questions and avoiding making difficult choices. I don’t know you personally, but I hope that you will treat my letter with the weight I have given it.
I hope that, your response to me will be speedy and give hope to the many British people out there like me were there is an increased risk of certain cancers due to our race and ethnicity. The evidence for this, coming from the National Cancer Intelligence Network and Cancer Research UK (national analysis of cancer incidence and survival by ethnic group in England).
I don’t propose to list all the evidence to you, but it includes the awareness of cancer being generally lower in BME groups, higher rates of diagnosis and the BME patient experience being less than positive.
I am a great believer in the NHS and believe it has and continues to do much good for the people of this small island, but just dropping the support to the coalition of 20 charities who together have done and continue to do so much appears reckless if not discriminatory.
That is why I pose the question at the top of this letter… Cancer Does Not Discriminate! Do You Mr Hunt?
I want to do my best and make sure that I do everything I can in my power as a British Citizen affected by cancer in a personal way that, I have today initiated a HM Government e-petition along with this letter to make sure immediate action is taken to improve the outcomes for BME communities.
Cancer Does Not Discriminate! Do you Mr Hunt? e-petition
If there is ever a time when keeping up the awareness of cancer within the black and ethnic minority communities, it is now. Reducing the inequalities at a time when belts are being tightened, will save the NHS money in the medium and long-term.
The legacy of the positive contribution of the many BME communities to this country over many decades must not be ignored, as Baroness Howells said passionately last year at the House of Lords ‘Calls for Action’ hosted by Lord Sheikh with the current Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC and Diane Abbott (Shadow Public Health Minister) being present.
My elders personally helped keep Britain moving with the Windrush generation post-war Caribbean migrants due to the shortage of local labour like in the NHS, and the contribution of the Irish community who came and worked on much of the UK’s buildings infrastructure.
I am white English and black Caribbean, of Irish and Barbadian descent.
You owe it to me, to keep the National BME Cancer Alliance supported within the NHS like the help Britain received when all seemed lost.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Social Justice & Equality Ambassador