MP's cancer inspires her to ensure patients don't 'fall through the cracks'

The Suffolk and North East Essex ICS held a conference on cancer on Wednesday (file photo)

The Suffolk and North East Essex ICS held a conference on cancer on Wednesday (file photo) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill has pledged to ensure cancer patients don't "fall through the cracks" in an emotional speech about her own battles against the illness. 

Mrs Churchill, a junior health minister, was speaking in a 'Thinking Differently Together' conference on cancer hosted by the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System (ICS) on Wednesday.

The mum-of-four was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 31 and was told she had breast cancer in her mid-40s.

A year after her breast cancer diagnosis, she had surgery to have several tumours removed.

Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, told a cancer conference of her experiences battling the disease

Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, told a cancer conference of her experiences battling the disease - Credit: House of Commons

Mrs Churchill told the conference she felt "really quite challenged" as she was treated for cancer and said the experience inspired her to run as an MP.

She said: "These are a couple of personal reflections on how we, going forward, care best for people.

"I believe my care was very good and I was very luck to have triple assessments.

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"There is, for me, work to do however to try and explain that cancer journeys are different for everybody. People talk about it as generic - but it's a personal journey.

"My driving reason coming to Parliament was to try and ensure that metastatic cancer patients have a better journey and they don't fall through the cracks.

"But, as we know, everybody's journey is less than sure."

Mrs Churchill said she has been "overwhelmed" by just how "marvellous" the cancer workforce has been in supporting people over the last year and how they have adapted. 

"I want to make sure everybody has the best support," she said. 

"The overriding thing for me on my diagnosis was that the treatment of my cancer was functional, and that's how I wanted it - I wanted to carry on working.

"However, the bit I needed help with was how it played with my head.

"Making sure we've got those services linked up has always been what's really important for me."

She said she is excited about what opportunities we can start to build on to care for cancer patients and how we can "give people courage to live well". 

Dr Christopher Scrase, clinical lead for cancer at the ICS, told the conference the coronavirus pandemic had accelerated a trend where patients are consulted virtually, as opposed to in a practice.

Christopher Scrase

Dr Christopher Scrase, clinical lead for cancer at the Suffolk and North East Essex ICS - Credit: Michael Austen

He said: "Communicatory skills training needs to be done in the context of the IT world where we connect with people.

"Many will be aware of the enormous challenges in consultation approaches in primary care, which started pre-Covid but has accelerated at enormous pace.

"Consultation is just one component of the so-called 'digital first' primary care offer, including online booking and virtual triaging.

"There is a big system change going on. I have to credit my colleagues for really taking the baton and progressing this."

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