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A year and a day as Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK

Posted by: Comms 15 November 2018

Diana Jupp, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK

Diana Blog (1)

Today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day, and also coincidentally a year to the day since I started at Pancreatic Cancer UK as the new Chief Executive. To be the Chief Exec of any charity is a huge responsibility, but I feel especially privileged to be leading Pancreatic Cancer UK - it is a really special organisation with a huge ambition to transform the world of pancreatic cancer through research, support and campaigning.

Working in any organisation focusing on cancer is hard, and every charity has its challenges. On a personal level, I have worked in the sector for 25 years, so I thought I was experienced and prepared to be part of an organisation focusing on the “toughest of cancers”. 

But I was wrong. The reality of this disease is stark. 1 in 4 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not live beyond a month, and 3 in 4 do not survive a year. These are tough and shocking statistics to comprehend. 

Already, I know too many people who have died from pancreatic cancer and met so many families and friends who have joined us in the fight to take it on. It is the daily contact that we have at the charity with people affected by the disease that keeps all of the staff grounded in the situation our supporters and patients find themselves in, which drives everyone to do more. 

Joining in November, in the middle of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month meant that I was arriving at one of the busiest periods ever for the organisation. I had a whirl-wind tour of the charity visiting our research labs and teams; seeing our work in Scotland and across the rest of the UK; meeting our trustees and many of our supporters and funders, and then sitting down with each and every member of staff to ask them what they loved about the charity and what they would change or do differently.

It was a fantastic first few weeks. I inherited a very healthy and happy organisation, thanks to the great leadership of Alex Ford, the previous Chief Executive. I was hugely impressed and inspired by everything that I saw and the impact we are already making. 

But no organisation is perfect, we’ve work to do and those conversations and visits have really shaped my focus and the work of the charity within this first year and for the next few to come. In particular, we need to:

  • Achieve a step change in the amount of investment in pancreatic cancer research 
  • Drive up NHS standards - improving care for pancreatic cancer patients across the UK
  • Campaign for significant change in pancreatic cancer health policy and NHS practice
  • Build on and grow our specialist support and information services for patients, families and friends

To help us deliver this programme of work, fantastically, we have a Chair and a Board of Trustees who are a joy to work with and have been absolutely key in guiding and supporting me and the charity. We also have a hugely committed team - with amazing staff survey results recently reflecting what a great place this is to work at: 100% of staff said their team members are good role models as employees and 94% recommend Pancreatic Cancer UK as a good place to work.

But even with such strong foundations, we are at risk of spreading ourselves too thin and burning our staff and our supporters out. That’s a danger for many small charities – but as a result of the urgency of pancreatic cancer, it is easy for the charity to feel the need to act fast and say yes to everything. 

We have therefore started a programme of work looking at how to build our resilience and strengthen our culture and our leadership so we are ready for the future. It’s been an exciting piece of work to get off the ground – we launched it at the Google Offices and we now have a whole host of ideas to support and develop the charity for the future!

Another challenge we face is underfunding: pancreatic cancer research only receives 2.1% of the annual UK cancer research spending budget*, despite it having the lowest survival rate of the 20 most common cancers. To change this and transform research and care, a huge focus of our work going forward is to grow our voice and bring more supporters to the charity. Only then will we be able to make our demands heard, fund the vital research that is needed and affect change sooner. In this last year we have become bolder in our messages and stories we are sharing about pancreatic cancer – and it is working! I’m really excited to say that our #DemandFasterTreatment campaign launched on 1 November is going from strength to strength. We’ve reached over 25,000 signatures to our petition and are now aiming for 50,000, and we are already in conversation with a number of NHS Trusts looking at Accelerated Treatment Pathways and fast track surgery. 

Working in pancreatic cancer is complicated. We’ve got different obstacles everywhere we go, and that means we’ve got to start thinking differently. We have reached out to work with other pancreatic cancer charities sharing our knowledge and expertise together, funding joint research projects, as part of a world coalition ensuring we can have as much impact as possible with a united voice.

I absolutely love working at Pancreatic Cancer UK and feel super optimistic for the future, we are already seeing change happen. With more people joining our cause we will begin to fund more research and increase our reach and support to everyone affected by pancreatic cancer. 

So, for World Pancreatic Cancer Day on 15 November – and my one-year anniversary at Pancreatic Cancer UK – I’m asking everyone to sign our petition so we can change the story of pancreatic cancer and save lives.

And please do join Pancreatic Cancer UK and other charities and organisations around the globe to demand better in the fight against the world's toughest cancer: http://www.worldpancreaticcancerday.org/

*National Cancer Research Institute: NCRI cancer research database – research funding 2016/17