Letter to the Chancellor on funding for breast cancer

Normally on #WearItPink Day we dress up in bright pink outfits to highlight as best we can that every year 11,500 women lose their lives to breast cancer. Covid-19 has put huge pressure on screening services and we can’t afford to delay. Today on #WearItPink day I’m wearing pink and have written to the Government to urge them to prioritise funding.


The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP

Chancellor of the Exchequer

HM Treasury

1 Horse Guards Road

London SW1A 2HQ

By Email

23rd October 2020

Dear Chancellor,


I am writing to you on behalf of my constituents in Newcastle to ask that you take into consideration key issues impacting on people affected by breast cancer in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review. These calls for funding are also supported by Breast Cancer Now.

First, the need for funding for a National Secondary Breast Cancer Audit.

This pandemic has been an extremely difficult and uncertain time for people living with breast cancer and their families. While the NHS has taken extensive steps to minimise the impact of the pandemic, there inevitably have been pauses and delays in treatment and diagnosis which have resulted in patients feeling particularly anxious about their long-term outcomes. This is especially true for those with secondary breast cancer, who are living with incurable cancer and have complex support needs.

For recovery plans for cancer to be successful, they must take into consideration the needs of all breast cancer patients, but this will be difficult due to a lack of data on people with secondary breast cancer. This has also been a longer-term issue, with the notable lack of data on people with secondary breast cancer resulting in significant gaps in our knowledge of the numbers and experiences of people living with incurable secondary breast cancer. We have the opportunity to improve breast cancer outcomes and ensure health authorities can deliver on the Government’s commitments set out on the NHS Long-term plan by funding a National Secondary Breast Cancer Audit and providing the missing insight that is desperately needed. Based on similar audits, Breast Cancer Now estimate that this will cost in the region of £2 million.

Second, the need for additional investment in the breast cancer workforce.

The NHS Long-Term Plan’s ambition is to improve early diagnosis of cancer and increase access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). But with breast screening effectively paused and a significant drop in referrals due to the pandemic, there is significant concerns regarding the ability of the breast imaging and diagnostic workforce to clear the backlog and cope with an expected influx in demand in the coming months. Additionally, there is concern that we do not have enough CNSs to support all breast cancer patients through an ever-more challenging pathway. Access to CNSs is particularly an issue for patients with secondary breast cancer.

This is the time to be bold and think about the kind of country we want to be as we emerge from this crisis and prepare ourselves for the future. The UK currently lags behind other European countries on breast cancer survival. Every year, we lose over 11,500 lives to the disease. With workforce pressures now more acute as a result of the pandemic, we need a long-term vision and accompanying investment to ensure breast cancer services are not overwhelmed, resulting in people waiting longer to be diagnosed and ultimately not receiving the treatment they need. It is critical that workforce shortages do not negatively impact patient care.

Third, the need to invest in breast cancer research through a Life Sciences Charity Partnership Fund.

The Fund, supported by the AMRC, would be a co-investment scheme between the government and charities that provides a level of match funding from government for future charity research over the next three years. At least £310 million of funding from government is being sought in the first year to bridge the projected shortfall in sector spend.

Breast cancer research gives hope for the future by discovering how to prevent breast cancer, save lives and help people to live well with the disease. Patients rely on this hope, but the impact of the pandemic on funding has been too great. Members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), who fund half of the publicly funded medical research nationally, are planning for an average 41% decrease in research spend in the 2020/21 financial year.

The choices made this autumn will determine whether our society can rise to the challenges ahead. Bridging the projected shortfall in sector spend will ensure vital research that saves lives can continue. That the careers of thousands of young scientists are not threatened and that world-class infrastructure that has taken decades to build is not damaged.

I hope you take this into consideration and take the opportunity this autumn to ensure everyone diagnosed with breast cancer lives and is supported to live well.

Yours sincerely

Catherine McKinnell MP







Catherine McKinnell MP