With Yorkshire Cancer Research’s recent announcement that over £5m will be invested in research to tackle cancer inequalities in Hull, the University and Hull York Medical School are continuing on their path to become a national and internationally known force in cancer research
Current statistics show that some 565 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates in the county are higher than the England average. More specifically, and for all cancers combined, NHS Hull has more men and women developing and dying from cancer than anywhere else in the UK.
The facts and statistics are stark, but they’re by no means a cause for submission – far from it. Yorkshire Cancer Research has recently awarded the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School (a collaboration between the universities of Hull and York and the NHS) £4.9 million to deliver major research to improve cancer survival rates and care in Yorkshire. An additional grant of £712,500 has also been awarded for research into diagnosis and intervention of lung cancer – the leading cause of death in Hull.
The larger of the two grants will be used to address key gaps in knowledge related to inequalities in experience of and outcomes from cancer. It will enable research into early diagnosis and detection, patient management, survivorship and palliative care. The smaller grant will fund a project aimed at developing interventions that may result in at-risk lung cancer patients seeking help earlier and being referred sooner.
“For many people, the thought of dying within a few years of stopping work is not exceptional,” says Una Macleod, Dean of the Hull York Medical School and Bransholme-based general practitioner. “When it comes to cancer there are huge disparities across the UK, both in terms of outcomes and attitudes. Deprived areas tend to have the poorest cancer outcomes and levels of knowledge surrounding the disease. The challenge for us, then, is enabling people who are in relatively poor social circumstances and just making ends meet to see that dying at 80 rather than 70 is something that is going to be important to them; to help them realise that we as doctors are here to do our best for them, and encourage them to speak to us as soon as there is a symptom.”
The two grants are the latest of dozens to have been awarded to the University and Hull York Medical School (HYMS) in relation to cancer research. Previous grants have been awarded for research into improving the care of those with chronic lung conditions; for investigation into new treatments for head and neck cancer; and for studying ways to approach drug-resistant cancers. Collectively, the research enabled by grants over the years has radically changed the life chances of people in the region living with cancer, and it continues to do so.
“Investment of this sort is crucial to take forward our aims,” says Una. “The fact that we’ve been the recipient of these awards is testament to the work that we’ve done in becoming a leading and internationally known centre for cancer research, which is absolutely what we aspire to be.
“People now acknowledge that there is a relationship between research funding and outcomes,” says Una. “Look at the number of people who are now cured of breast cancer compared with the 1970s and you’ll see that it has dramatically improved; then look at where most funding has gone and you’ll see it’s been for breast cancer.”
As well as addressing outcomes and attitudes when it comes to cancer, the University and HYMS are transforming the way hospitals and GPs work more broadly. This, in fact, was what inspired Una to take up the role of Dean.
“When I started as a doctor, people were talking about the health service being in crisis,” she says. “Today, most people think it’s in a worse state of crisis than ever before. There’s a workforce crisis like we’ve never seen, and that’s very problematic. To be able to foresee the kind of healthcare professionals we’ll need over the coming decades is crucial. Do we have a curriculum and environment that nurture the sort of doctors the health service needs? Can we become known for producing doctors who are really well equipped to work in areas of social deprivation and with very vulnerable groups?”
Hull is already proving that it can. A total of 132 nursing students who are in their final year of study at the University have just been offered permanent roles working at local hospitals – an overwhelming success and indication that the University is working with the NHS effectively to support the future provision of local healthcare.
The news comes at a time when the University is investing heavily in its facilities for healthcare students as a whole. Upon its opening later this year, the £28m Health Campus will become the home to the Faculty of Health Sciences, which includes Hull York Medical School – the environment in which the health practitioners of the future will be created and in which world-leading research will be conducted. The facilities, being built in part with a £7m donation from alumnus Dr Assem Allam, will offer students teaching and training in ‘real-life’ settings, which includes a full mock hospital ward, an operating theatre and intensive care nursing facilities.
“The level of investment says something about how much the School and the University value healthcare. While the office space will be much better, the standout point here is going to be the space for teaching. The clinical skills teaching space is going to be phenomenal. It’s been designed around the needs of the students and the kind of learning environments they need. It’s hard to convey what a step-change the Health Campus has the potential to make to our work.”
The space will also enable the teaching of medical and nursing students together – an innovation, according to Una, given their different learning outcomes and requirements. “These are individuals who are going to be working together all of their lives, and this space is going to enable us to prepare them for that.”
Making an impact
Research carried out in Hull continues to substantially impact the ways in which cancer is understood, diagnosed and treated
Una Macleod, Dean of the Hull York Medical School, has been leading research into whether changes in general practice could contribute to an overall improvement in cancer survival. There is evidence that, for a number of cancers, poorer outcomes can be directly related to delays in the initial diagnosis – and hence referral and treatment. The work that Una and her colleagues have done has included an innovative approach to improving practice by systematically reviewing cases where a delay in diagnosis has occurred. The findings of the research have since been adopted by the Royal College of General Practitioners to roll out a national pilot, with the aim of increasing early referral of patients and ultimately improving successful treatment and reducing cancer deaths.
Professor Mike Lind and his research colleagues have an established track record of research into cancer, specifically lung cancer. The findings of recent studies into non-small-cell lung cancer to which Mike and his colleagues contributed are already shaping the way lung cancer surgery is delivered in the country. The findings have led to changes in clinical commissioning guidelines. The team also researched the second most predominant lung cancer type (small-cell), identifying that surgery was of higher benefit in earlier stage cases than previously identified. The findings are likely to influence NICE guidelines and change practices in treatment.
Professor Mike Lind is a Professor of Oncology. He has been involved in Clinical Oncology for 25 years, specialising in lung cancer. He is also the Medical Director of the Cancer Network and has been instrumental in getting the Liverpool Care Pathway accepted and in place locally.