Manchester is recruiting 20,000 “cancer champions” to change how people think about the disease, and so prevent thousands of needless deaths. The champions, in one of the UK’s cancer hotspots, aim to make it normal to talk about screenings, lifestyle factors that contribute to the disease and the symptoms that could let people catch it early. The existing system is failing to reach people on low incomes.
Results & Impact
By 2021, Manchester aims to eradicate 40% of cancer deaths by making lifestyle changes among the populace. Due to an ageing population the number of people being diagnosed is growing and existing health systems are not reaching low income people. In 2014, 14,500 people were diagnosed with cancer, compared with 13,600 in 2011
Greater Manchester Vanguard Innovation, NHS England, Action Together and Voluntary Sector North West, ten local authorities and 100 voluntary organisations
The huge collaboration of local authorities and voluntary organisations are mobilising 20,000 volunteer "cancer champions" to get people talking about symptoms and screenings. The “cancer champions” volunteer at surgeries in deprived areas and contact people who have not returned their screening kits. Data from the project will also be made accessible by other cancer alliances which are being set up all round the country
Cost & Value
Running since June 2016
It took 18 months to get backing from NHS England for the project. The deadlock was broken when the organisers found a champion of their own within the department, who advocated for it internally
In the first health initiative of its kind, Greater Manchester has launched a social movement with the voluntary sector to recruit 20,000 people as “cancer champions” by 2019.
The “cancer champions” will communicate the risks of the disease to the wider public by talking to people about the importance of screening and catching symptoms early. They will share messages that will help reduce adult smoking rates and other unhealthy lifestyles that increase risks. They will also encourage people to take up cancer screening invitations or visit their GPs if they are already worried about symptoms. They will provide feedback from people to help improve the experience of cancer treatment and care.
“In the voluntary sector, we talk about social movements a fair amount,” said Ben Gilchrist, Deputy Chief Executive of Action Together. “This is new territory for the NHS, so a large part of our work was to find the right people to talk to and to help build the processes. It was really about building trust. To my knowledge this is pretty unique.”
This radical approach is the result of a realisation that existing health systems are not having an impact on low income groups where factors like smoking and other unhealthy behaviours are an issue. According to Cancer Research figures, the cancer death rate in Greater Manchester is 10% higher than the national average. Around 40% of Greater Manchester’s cancer deaths could be prevented by lifestyle changes, according to research – in 2013, 6,700 people died of the disease in Greater Manchester.
The idea is the brainchild of the voluntary organisation Action Together and Greater Manchester Cancer Vanguard Innovation, part of Greater Manchester Cancer, a program of the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. It is also being jointly funded by NHS England.
The “cancer champions” undertake a variety of tasks, including volunteering their time at local GP surgeries in deprived areas and contacting people who have not returned their bowel cancer screening kits. Findings from the project will be combined with other data and public health information to create an online dashboard to help prevent avoidable deaths across the UK. The dashboard will also be accessible by other cancer alliances which are being set up all round the country.
The aim is to sign up 5,000 “cancer champions” by autumn 2017, and to reach 20,000 by 2019. Mobilising this number is one of a series of measures intended to cut premature cancer deaths across Greater Manchester by 1,300 by 2021.
“Cancer champions” are also to be recruited through formal links between local authorities, Action Together and Voluntary Sector North West. Ten local authorities will put interested individuals in touch with voluntary organisations to receive advice and training. Workshops and publicity campaigns will further boost enrolment, and a new web platform is being built where people can share their experiences.
(Photo: Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership)