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The NHS is failing brain tumour patients – my bill will help to revolutionise their treatment

Margaret McDonagh with Tony Blair (right) and John Prescott (left) in 1998 (Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

My sister Margaret was an extraordinary woman who battled hard for what she believed in and inspired the rest of us to keep battling.

She was the youngest and the first ever female general secretary of the Labour Party. Her ambition was to secure two consecutive general election victories, resulting in full terms for a Labour government, which she achieved in 1997 and 2001.

Margaret was a formidable woman, and she wasn’t scared of difficult conversations. A good friend once said that “she loved people enough to tell them the truth”. 

Since Margaret passed away, I have made it my mission to find a cure for this terrible disease

When she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour in November 2021, she wanted to know the truth. And the truth was that treatment on the NHS was woefully poor. Standard treatment had not advanced in three decades and life expectancy was just nine months.

Sadly, after battling the disease for over 18 months, she passed away on 24 June 2023, two days before her 62nd birthday. The NHS failed my sister and is failing the 3,200 people who are diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumour every year.

After a basic course of treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the patient is left on their own. Those who have the money travel abroad for private treatment. Others are forced to crowdfund to pay for their healthcare.

I took a very poorly Margaret on a plane to Düsseldorf every month to receive treatment. Those were bleak days. Since Margaret passed away, I have made it my mission to find a cure for this terrible disease.

That starts with clinical trials. At the moment, the United Kingdom has almost none. With only 3,200 people diagnosed with the disease every year, it hasn’t been profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in them.

That is why I have put forward a Private Members’ Bill that would make the companies provide the drugs to make trials possible, whether they like it or not!

But that is not all. My bill, which I put before the House of Commons last month, would set a target of getting 200 glioblastoma patients each year into clinical trials on drugs that have the potential to change the course of the disease.

My bill puts forward a manifesto of changes that would revolutionise how we treat brain tumours in the UK. It starts with training medical oncologists to be experts in the field and goes on to make the regulatory authorities expedite applications for innovative new trials.

Whether the government takes on my manifesto or not, it will have to tell the truth about where we are. Our approach over the past 30 years has failed, and it is time to try something new. 

Siobhain McDonagh is Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden

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