So Dame Tessa Jowell and I weren’t exactly political allies. Jowell was a government minister, previously holding the role as Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport. Personally, I’ve always considered that the role of "Minister for Stuff."
She was a member of the Blair and Brown cabinets, and became the Shadow Minister for London and the Olympics. She is a Labourite, through and through, and so I can’t say I admire her politics. I don’t.
But she died last week. Tessa Jowell was suffering from a lethal form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme. After her diagnosis, she became an advocate for better cancer treatments and improving cancer care and diagnosis in the NHS.
It’s for this that I want to thank her.
Cancer has devastated my family many times over. My family lost my grandmother before I could meet her. I lost my other grandmother in 2012 to breast cancer. It is one of the most heartbreaking things a family can experience, but the back up and security of our National Health Service is a real saving grace. We Brits are very proud of our NHS. We accept that it is not perfect, just as the American private system is far from perfect, but we almost universally agree that our care system is compassionate and fair.
Jowell gave a moving speech in the House of Lords about her experiences, and the progress the NHS needs to make.
She advocated for adaptive trials, a system that allows people suffering from cancer to try multiple treatments at the same time. This gives people the best chance of surviving, and doesn’t give as much time for the cancer to set in before it can be treated.
Traditional trials only allow one drug or treatment at a time, and for people suffering from brain cancer, this can ultimately result in wasted time and unnecessary death.
Her commitment to improving the NHS has worked, and her courage to stand up and talk about this is admirable. Her speech in the House of Lords really moved me, and I was glad to read yesterday that research funding will double to £40 million – to allow better brain cancer treatments to be developed. It was also announced that all NHS hospitals will perform gold standard tumour diagnosis tests. This can reduce mortality rate, improve treatment and innovation in this field, and help us beat cancer sooner.
So thank you, Tessa Jowell. I’m sure you probably would have hated me, but I can’t hate you for what you did in your final months. This could save so many people.
I just hope that the NHS is, one day, relieved of its unnecessary burdens, audited and made more efficient.
Imagine what we could do then.