On 8th September 2014 a momentous debate on pancreatic cancer took place in Westminster, thanks to the hard work and dedication of supporters and charities who took up the cause of Maggie Watts' e-petition campaign. Parliament debated the need for better awareness, swifter diagnosis, and more research funding for pancreatic cancer.
The day began with around 50 supporters meeting in Parliament's Jubilee room to chat and share stories ahead of the debate itself over tea and biscuits, a reception jointly organised by ourselves and Pancreatic Cancer Action. Julie Hesmondhalgh, whose Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper died after battling pancreatic cancer - was there to offer her support, together with MPs Nic Dakin and Eric Ollerenshaw, who co-sponsored the Parliamentary debate.
A number of other MPs, including Stuart Andrew, Tim Farron, Heather Wheeler, Paul Murphy, Rob Wilson, Sir Roger Gale and Barbara Keeley dropped in to show their backing for the cause and talk to supporters.
As for the debate itself, over the course of two and a half hours, MP after MP called upon the Health Minister to make the changes needed to ensure that pancreatic cancer survival rates - appallingly low and largely unchanged over the past 40 years - start to improve. All speakers praised Maggie and her fellow campaigners for their success with the e-petition and how their efforts have helped to raise the profile of pancreatic cancer in UK.
Very importantly, the Minister agreed to take Nic Dakin and Eric Ollerenshaw to a meeting with the Chief Medical Officer to discuss in more detail the levels of funding for pancreatic cancer research.
28 MPs attended the debate, with 11 full speeches made and a number of interventions made. Thank you to the following MPs who stayed for all or part of the proceedings:
Nic Dakin, Eric Ollerenshaw, Barbara Keeley, Stewart Jackson, Jonathan Reynolds, John Baron, Grahame Morris, Stuart Andrew, Iain Stewart, Phillip Lee, Karen Lumley, Sir Andrew Stunnell, Julian Huppert, Stephen McPartland, Naomi Long, Andrew Smith, John Hemming, Rob Wilson, Richard Fuller, Simon Burns, Mark Durkan, Stephen Pound, John Mann, Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed, Health Minister Jane Ellison and her PPS Andrew Jones. Christopher Chope and Philip Davies chaired the debate.
The day ended with more Parliamentary support for tackling pancreatic cancer than we have ever seen before! If you couldn't be there, or missed it online yesterday, then not to worry because you can watch the debate online, or read the transcript via Hansard. Don't forget to have a look at our photos from the day on Facebook.
If your MP was unable to make the debate, you might like to write to them to draw their attention to some of the key points made. There is a template email you can use but, as ever, please do personalise it: for example, if you attended or watched the debate yourself, please say so!
Maggie's story: the e-petition
Maggie Watts launched a UK Government E-petition to help push pancreatic cancer higher up the political agenda, to raise its profile and to encourage more funding and research into the disease. The e-petition achieved over 106,000 signatures in March 2014 leading the aforementioned debate. This is Maggie's story.
Maggie and her husband Kevin
"My husband died of pancreatic cancer, aged just 48, a few days before Christmas 2009. His own mother died in 1969 of the same cancer, aged 27. The shocking fact is, that although these deaths were 40 years apart, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer has not improved at all in that time. Something must be done to change this for future pancreatic cancer patients - it can strike anyone at any age and around 8,800 people die from it in the UK each year
"My husband fought valiantly to stay alive as long as possible and his positivity throughout was amazing, including holding an "I'm Still Standing" Party to celebrate outliving the 18 month prognosis he was given. Sadly, he died six weeks later and it is in his memory that I am striving to raise awareness of this cancer so that progress can be made for future sufferers.
"My husband was amazing throughout his illness and did so much, including the Great South Run for our local Hospice the day after completing a 6 week chemo/radiotherapy course, despite advice to the contrary from his Oncologist. He continued to work throughout and the project he built whilst he was ill was nominated for a Building Excellence Award which he won (sadly after he had passed away) but my son and I accepted it on his behalf. He refused to give into the cancer and, thankfully, was able to live a full life right up to the very end - by that I don't mean that his cancer battle was easy, he just somehow found a steely determination and positivity to get through."