Saying the right things: How do party conferences compare across the border?

The political party conferences are really important dates in the calendar for Prostate Cancer UK, especially our Campaigns team. It’s a huge opportunity to push prostate cancer up the agenda with decision makers and tell them about the issues men are facing.

We’ve recently heard from Sophie Lutter about her conference experience this year and the vital role our volunteers play in building relationships with politicians. Our guest blogger this week, Campaigns and Media Coordinator, Lauren Davies is based in our Glasgow office. She’s been a regular at Scottish party conferences over the last few years, but recently went to her first UK conference (albeit once taking place in Scotland!). Here she tells us how different a challenge it was.

Lauren Davies, Campaigns and Media Coordinator

Lauren Davies, Campaigns and Media Coordinator

“Along with colleagues from across various departments, and some truly excellent volunteers, I attended this year’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.

“For me it was really interesting to see the differences between the UK and Scottish party conferences, and to note the additional challenges that arise from the different scale and the types of attendees at the UK conferences.

“Surprisingly the size of venue  isn’t vastly different as there are still large numbers of exhibitors at Scottish conferences, and there tend to be many more charities and organisations there. But there is a big difference in terms of numbers of politicians.

“To give you an idea, the UK parliament has 650 MPs compared to the Scottish Parliament’s 129 MSPs. The majority of politicians in Westminster are split across the three main parties whose conferences our Campaigns team would attend – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem. But in Holyrood politicians are divided into four main parties – the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and Unionists, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  This means that each conference is smaller and therefore our Campaigns team in Scotland have a smaller target audience to focus on.

“A clear upside of this is that we can pay more attention to detail when preparing. We can nail down what we want to talk to them about before we go and have much more detailed notes on previous involvement with specific politicians. And we can generally recognise all of them as we’ve met them numerous times! You just can’t do that at bigger UK conferences.

“UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK… As a result, it’s much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people”

“We can also be sure that the campaign messages we’re trying to get across about Scotland are fine for the vast majority of politicians and delegates who are there. However, UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK – so our usual approach of keeping an eye out for MSPs does not quite work. There are MPs, Members of the House of Lords, Councillors, AMs, MLAs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to meet and influence as well!

“As a result, it’s much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people. Our messages need to be tailored to suit whichever of the four nations (and four separate health care systems) we’re targeting. For example, there would be little sense in speaking to English, Welsh, or Northern Irish MPs about the Scottish Medicines Consortium (the body that recommends which new drugs should be made available on NHS Scotland). Or to MSPs about Be Clear on Cancer (an awareness campaign led by Public Health England). I definitely had to do more swotting up on all of our messaging than usual!

“It is a challenge, but the evidence suggests that we are increasingly up to this challenge. Prostate Cancer UK has had great success at the Scottish conferences over the years. We’ve secured support and follow-up actions from the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the Health Secretary and Shadow Health Ministers for our key campaigns.

“And at UK party conferences we’ve won the support of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and key Government Ministers and shadows from all parliaments and assemblies too. Proof that we are increasingly getting this right.

“We know our stand and messaging this year hit the back of the net with Lib Dem delegates as we won the award for Best Charitable Stand. And we won the same at the Labour conference the week before. So our style as well as our substance was clearly recognised.

Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg signs for Men United

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg signs for Men United with volunteer, Terry Potter

“From attending the Lib Dem conference, and hearing from colleagues who attended the Conservative and Labour ones, it’s clear it has been worthwhile in helping us engage with politicians and other organisations. An impressive number of politicians signed up for Men United. And in doing so they pledged to help with follow-up work for our latest campaigns on inequalities for men with prostate cancer.

“We have the photographic evidence so they can’t back out now!”

It started with a ‘tache. Now our love affair with rugby league is getting serious.

From moustaches to Manchester United and badges to barbers shops, Prostate Cancer UK’s presence in rugby league is on the rise. Our Sports PR Manager Gary Haines reports from the touchline on the bromance of the year.

Gary Haines, Sports PR Manager

Gary Haines, Sports PR Manager

Recently, North West rivals Wigan Warriors and St Helens locked horns amid a cauldron of noise as the curtain came down on a compelling 2014 Super League season at Old Trafford – and we were in amongst a 70,000-strong crowd. Invited up by our rugby league friends, we were there to meet new faces and pave the way to working even more closely over the next year.

Wind the clock back 12 months and Prostate Cancer UK’s presence in the sport was fleeting at best. Conversations had been exchanged and ideas tentatively bounced around, but when Sky Sports rugby league presenter Bill Arthur got involved during Movember last year the tide turned.

Sky Sports rugby league reporter, Bill Arthur

Sky Sports rugby league reporter, Bill Arthur

Bill, a touchline, studio and commentary box stalwart, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2012 by chance. A decision to move house and the mortgage paperwork that followed triggered a chain of events that led to the life-changing news in his doctor’s surgery.

These days Bill is a passionate advocate for Prostate Cancer UK and the driving force behind a startling upturn in our presence in the sport. Thanks to him our Man of Men badge has become a staple part of the rugby league presenters’ wardrobe.

And after he started wearing one and giving them out, the icon became the talk of the town. People wanted to know what it was. There was such a buzz about it that Bill’s executive producer, Neville Smith, (who would later complete Ride London for us) suggested Bill answer that question on TV.

A few days later Bill was at our London Bridge office interviewing Director of Fundraising, Mark Bishop. He also quizzed Leeds Rhinos duo Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock as well as Jon Wilkin and Paul Wellens from St Helens about why they were wearing the badge. The feature was broadcast ahead of the rivals’ game with Bill and anchor, Eddie Hemmings, also speaking about their personal experiences of prostate cancer.

Partnerships were forged with League 13 (the players’ union body) and conversations started with clubs up and down the country. And it didn’t stop there. The then-England skipper Sinfield got behind the Men United v Prostate Cancer campaign and a host of star names followed in his studmarks. Men like Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin, Leeds stalwart Peacock, St Helens skipper Paul Wellens and many more.

As the season rolled on the badges became a prerequisite of the coverage with new faces immediately signed up by Bill. On our side, emails turned into phone calls, and then into meetings as we started to embrace the potential of the sport.

The strong heartland of rugby league is in the north of the country, with a couple of exceptions in Catalan Dragons, located in the south of France and London Broncos. Top-flight teams from Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside bring a sense of real regional rivalry to the table, and offer us an opportunity to reach out into communities at the same time and reach men and their families in new and innovative ways.

Take Widnes Vikings. Brian O’Connor , the Vikings’ Marketing Director, watched with interest when Sky Sports transmitted the Prostate Cancer UK feature and invited us to meet him and his family when Widnes were entertained by London Broncos. By the end of a productive chat over dinner he was won over – and so were we. Next season the club will have the Prostate Cancer UK logo on their shirts as part of a charity partnership.

Rugby and football stars pop in for a trim and sign for Men United

Sinfield, meanwhile, had suggested we get in touch with his local barbershop in Oldham, where barber Steven Palmer had asked for a box of badges to put on the counter. But he wasn’t the only rugby league ace on the books – far from it. Enter St Helens’ Mark Flanagan, son of Terry Flanagan, former Great Britain man and now Chairman of Rugby League Cares, the charitable arm of the Super League.

Another England sporting international, former Manchester United man Paul Scholes, also an Oldham native, was a regular in the shop too. A perfect media storm was brewing, and in late July the three VIPs drew national television, radio, newspaper and online media to the barber shop. They were interviewed about their support of Prostate Cancer UK and took the Men United test on camera.

The story ran across Sky Sports News for two days with branding and badges prominent and Prostate Cancer UK given strong mentions. There were also features in The Sun and talkSPORT amid a sensational period of coverage.

And we’ve forged contact with the RFL via Rugby League Cares and our Community Engagement Manager, Chris Carter, met Flanagan senior and appeared on Sky Sports magazine show Boots ’N’ All.

For a sport that was arguably well off our radar, a lot has happened in a year. And that brings us to the final at Old Trafford.

Sky Sports rugby league team

Sky Sports rugby league team: Barrie McDermott, Bill Arthur, Terry O’Connor, Phil Clarke, Sam Tomkins and Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson

Bill’s generosity knew no bounds when he hosted me, Chris Carter and our Deputy Director of Communications, Alison Day at the final. He started us off with a tour of Sky’s inner sanctum, tucked away at the back of the club’s West Stand car park. We met Eddie Hemmings, long time broadcast colleague Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson, and all the pundits including Sam Tomkins, back from New Zealand and, naturally, badged up as soon as he got out of his car.

What impressed us more than anything was the knowledge about prostate cancer and the enthusiasm shared by the panel. Here was a group of former players really behind the cause, all of whom were happy to help us however they could, all of whom had taken time out of their busy schedule to meet us. As kick-off approached we headed to our seats – Bill had got us into the executive suite where we chatted to dignitaries from the RFL, passing on badges wherever possible.

Looking back to how it all started with Bill’s Movember ‘tache, it was an amazing privilege for us to get the opportunity to mingle with the great and good in the game on such a prestigious occasion. And after seeing St Helens edge out their rivals in an incident-packed affair it was great to see Wellens and Flanagan, a man who made us all a round of tea in the barber’s shop back in July, celebrating.

And our conversations are set to continue as Prostate Cancer UK charges down an exciting new sporting path.

Hot off the press: volunteers help to score party conference success

David Cameron signs for Men United at the Conservative party conference

David Cameron signs for Men United at the Conservative party conference

Over the last month, our Policy and Campaigns team and dedicated supporter campaigners have been travelling the length and breadth of the country to attend the three main UK political party conferences. This year, our campaigning was focused around our five inequalities: five solutions report that we launched in Westminster and Holyrood in the summer. The report highlights the inequalities that men with and at risk of prostate cancer face and underpins our Men United v Prostate Cancer campaign.

We’ve already recorded some notable successes since publishing this report. For example, the Westminster Government launched a new pilot strand of the Be Clear on Cancer awareness campaign in London, particularly aimed at raising awareness of prostate cancer risk in Black men, while the Scottish Government announced that robot assisted prostatectomy would be made available on the NHS in Scotland, with the first patients set to benefit early next year.

While these early successes are extremely encouraging, this isn’t the end of the story, which is why we need to attend events like the party conferences.

They’re a key part of our influencing activity – a chance to meet with politicians, people planning to stand for election next year (prospective parliamentary candidates) and members of the House of Lords. It’s an opportunity to raise the profile of prostate cancer  at the highest level and highlight the inequalities men with and at risk of prostate cancer are still facing. The relationships we build with politicians at party conferences are vital in achieving our goal of improving care and support for men with prostate cancer.

One thing that definitely struck me was how important it was to have our volunteers with us. I was at the Liberal Democrat conference with volunteers Terry Potter and Rod Wiltshire, who did a fantastic job getting the politicians onside. And Susan Childs, Roger Hones, Jon Newman and Robin Porter were also brilliant at the Labour and Conservative party conferences. The very down-to-earth, personal way that they told politicians their stories and gave their perspective as someone living with or directly affected by prostate cancer really added colour and strength to our message. And I have to say that watching Terry turn the charm on Nick Clegg, and exchanging some man-to-man banter as he signed for Men United really made my day!

Volunteer Rod with Campaigns and Media Coordinator Lauren Davies

Award winning: Volunteer Rod Wiltshire with Campaigns and Media Coordinator Lauren Davies

We took a stand kitted out like the Men United locker room to each conference and handed out personalized Men United shirts for a suggested donation to MPs and other politicians who signed for the team. The stand was really eye-catching and helped gain us a lot of attention and support – we even won awards for it at both the Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences!

You can have a look at how exciting our stand was and how many politicians the supporter campaigners signed in our storify feed:



Working together to understand why 1 in 4 Black men face prostate cancer

October is Black History Month. This time last year we broke the news that 1 in 4 Black men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime. That’s double the risk of all men.

Over the past year we’ve been doing all we can to get this message out there and make sure Black men know their risk. This has included adverts in papers and magazines, such as The Voice and The Nubian Times, as well as a float at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Taking the message to the streets in the Notting Hill Carnival  Soca style

Taking the message to the streets in the Notting Hill Carnival – Soca style

This month we’re talking about the ‘four things every Black man should know about prostate cancer’. This is an article in the official Black History Month guide, sent out alongside The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Voice. These are:

  1. Know your risk
  2. Know the possible symptoms
  3. Know your rights
  4. Know where you can get support

Recently I spoke to Sarah Toule, Service Development Manager at Prostate Cancer UK. Sarah’s role is to reach men at a higher risk of prostate cancer. One of the key areas of her work is reaching Black men.

Sarah Toule, Service Development Manager

Sarah Toule, Service Development Manager

“When I joined Prostate Cancer UK in 2009 it felt like our African Caribbean programme was something in isolation from the Black community, with no real framework. Plus it was just me! Fast forward five years and we’ve not only got a programme of activity, but we have a team, trained nurses and we collaborate with leaders in the Black community.”

We need your help to understand the 1 in 4 stat

“Over the last year, one of our biggest news stories was highlighting the risk of prostate cancer in Black men. In the UK 1 in 4 Black men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime. This is double the lifetime risk for all men (1 in 8). It’s a stark statistic but it hammers home just how big an issue this is. Awareness of prostate cancer remains low amongst Black men. This must change.”

“One of the hardest things to say to people is that we don’t know why 1 in 4 Black men will get prostate cancer. But we need to understand why this is. We think we can learn so much more through targeted research and gathering more health information from Black men. For example, it’s really important that men’s ethnicity is recorded correctly and consistently in the health system so we can analyse data and learn more about Black men and prostate cancer. To get the message out there we’ve recruited Research Champions. They are ‘super supporters’ who go out into their communities and talk to Black men about their risk and why we need to understand more.

“If you’re a Black man reading this, please know that you can play a key role and take control of your health. Whether it’s deciding to take part in research or ensuring that your ethnicity is recorded correctly when you visit your GP. These are the messages that our research champions are spreading.”

Cultural differences

“I’ve always worked in the Black and Minority Ethnic community, addressing health inequalities. Being from the Seychelles, which is a melting pot of different cultures and identities, I understand the challenges that cultural differences can create. It’s not about race. It’s about different norms and preferences between different communities and different attitudes towards health and healthcare. Many Black men are in an unnecessary situation where they don’t know their risk of prostate cancer. They don’t know their rights to services or they aren’t receiving the services they deserve. Together we’re improving this. And we’re developing strong links thanks to our partnerships in the community to make a real difference. ”

“In early 2014 we launched a pilot grant scheme to fund community activities with one aim – to help raise awareness of prostate cancer amongst Black men. We’ve funded conferences, small research projects, church events and even a comedy show! Being able to meet people and see the benefits is great. It shows the impact we can have. We’ve already heard of men who have visited their GP and been diagnosed with prostate cancer as a result of attending one of the funded events. Getting an early diagnosis significantly increases your chances of a positive outcome, and this really highlights the importance of this work.”

The role of the health professional

“Every activity within our team’s work has one goal – to reach men at a higher risk. One of our team’s most successful projects so far has been taking our Specialist Nurse services into the community. For men, being able to speak to a nurse face-to-face immediately after a talk from one of our volunteers is so useful. It means they can start building relationships with health services. They gain such confidence just from knowing that it’s within their rights to speak to a doctor about their health. Following the success of the pilot we’ve now trained some of our Specialist Nurses to go out into the Black community and support men.”

Planning for the future

“We created a new role this year – African and African Caribbean Project Manager – and we are seeing increasing focus on the Black community across everything that we do at Prostate Cancer UK. Having that designated person allows us to realise our ambitions and deliver our intentions, so who knows where we might be in another six years time!

“We are also partnering with the Be Clear on Cancer campaign to pilot a programme in parts of London, engaging Black men to know more about their risk and speak to their GP if they’re worried. Projects like this are only possible if we, Public Health England, GPs, campaigners, volunteers and leaders in the Black community work together. It’s vital more Black men know about prostate cancer, their risk, and their rights and where they can go for support.”

Going global – the True NTH programme

It doesn’t take long – three to four minutes of the evening news should do it – to realise just how disjointed and isolated we can be as a species. Our countries have never been better connected in terms of technology, but in many respects we’re just as distant as when travelling between continents involved months at sea.

Take prostate cancer as an example. Each year, hundreds of thousands of men across the globe are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the many who survive it often experience significant side-effects from treatment. Incontinence, loss of sexual function, and fatigue to name just a few. Experts in each country battle on a daily basis to improve the lives of these men, but their learnings – both good and bad – sometimes don’t travel further than the local hospital they’re developed in.

With this very problem in mind, the Movember Foundation have launched True NTH, a global programme designed to trial and implement new ways of significantly improving the lives of men (and their partners) living with prostate cancer. Crucially, the aim is to collaborate internationally, and develop and perfect programmes that can be rolled out anywhere in the world.

True NTH

The True NTH programme will make a huge difference to the lives of men living with prostate cancer.

A worldwide network, True NTH consists of 77 leading global experts from 23 difference organisations from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA. Prostate Cancer UK is leading on five projects funded by the Movember Foundation that are looking to improve prostate cancer care and support in these four areas:

  • Better treatment decisions for men
  • Exercise and diet
  • Supported self management (helping men to manage their own recovery)
  • Improving continence (both bowel and urinary)

These projects aim to provide practical, cost-effective solutions to everyday problems faced by many of the 250,000 men living with the disease in the UK.

The Movember Foundation is a global force to be reckoned with. In 330 days – one month of activity per year for the last 11 years – Movember have raised over £346 million across the globe. People often associate fortitude and determination with a stiff upper lip, but the Movember Foundation are proving that a hairy one can be just as formidable. I am proud to be working with the Movember Foundation in the UK, and look forward to report back on the progress of True NTH in the coming months.

Building an image of the prostate slice by slice: PhD student’s three years in the lab

As five new PhD students join our team of scientists and clinicians fighting prostate cancer, we catch up with one student coming to the end of his study. Our guest blogger this week is Jonathan Francis Roscoe, a PhD student in the Vision, Graphics and Visualisation group at Aberystwyth University, supervised by Hannah Dee and Reyer Zwiggelaar. Back in 2011 we awarded the team a grant, funded by the Hoover Foundation, to fund Jonathan’s project.

Jonathan Francis Roscoe, PhD Student

Jonathan: “It was extremely exciting to discover we had been awarded a grant from Prostate Cancer UK. It’s been a busy three years, but the project is coming to an end so it’s a good time to let you know what we’ve been up to.

“As many of you will know, prostate biopsy (where small samples of tissue are removed with a needle) is the definitive method for finding out if there is cancer in a man’s prostate. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with this method. The majority of biopsies are performed using ultrasound to look at the prostate. While this is cheap and readily available it provides only a basic image of the prostate making it difficult to target areas where there might be cancer.

“Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a much clearer means of looking at the prostate, but is costly and time consuming. And while biopsy can be performed under MRI, it requires specialist equipment and isn’t currently standard practice.

“The aim of our project was to take standard MRIs and combine them with ultrasound in order to improve the accuracy of the ultrasound-guided biopsy. You could think of it as a map to highlight “high risk” regions, so that the urologist has an easier time identifying suspicious areas.

“One of the first steps towards this was to build a 3D computer model of the prostate that provided a typical map of tissue types, including locations most likely to contain cancer. An MRI scan works by taking images at several locations, producing a number of images representing cross-sections of the body – known as slices. A typical scan is made of around 20 slices, which when stacked together provide a clear image of the prostate. To construct our 3D model we combined over 1,200 MRI slices from more than 50 men with prostate cancer. Each slice had been annotated by radiologists to indicate three major regions of interest – the prostate capsule, the central region and areas of cancer (if there were any).

“We applied image processing techniques found in hand-writing recognition and face morphing tools (which you may have seen popularised recently as mobile apps). This allowed us to combine all of the images into a single model, identifying areas where tumours commonly appear throughout the prostate. Although no two cases are alike, combining a variety allows us to find common characteristics.

“We had a lot of problems to tackle and we’ve done a lot of research into potential techniques. Much of my research has been inspired by mammographic and other medical image analysis techniques that have similar characteristics. (A mammogram is an image of a woman’s breast used to try and spot cancer.) I am continually looking for methods that might be applicable to the MRI and ultrasound images of the prostate.

“At the moment we’re wrapping up investigation into a novel technique for detecting areas of cancer in MRI that works by combining different characteristics of the image to differentiate structures. Every image, whether it’s from a camera or an MRI scan has a number of features that can tell us about the content. For example, in a landscape if you were searching for sky, you might look for blue regions. If you want to find a road you might look for straight lines.

“Often, cancer areas are much darker though this alone isn’t a good enough test. In our method we use two major characteristics. The first is intensity (how bright or dark a spot on the image is) and the second is microstructure (we count small straight lines, corners, etc. at a scale a human might not see). Together, these give us a new way of describing sections of an image.

“Once we’ve done this, we can combine it with our earlier work in 3D modelling to project it onto ultrasound images (which don’t have a lot of useful information) to improve their reliability.

“Over the next six months I will be reviewing the work I’ve done so far, and putting it together with similar research published by authors from around the world in order to hone our methodology and form my thesis. I don’t yet know what I will be doing afterwards, but I am planning to investigate further research work. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity Prostate Cancer UK gave me. I hope my work will not only be of value to others working in medical image analysis but also to men with, or at risk of prostate cancer. In particular, this work should be a step towards better diagnosis and staging.

“I also want to say good luck to any new research students starting soon. It’s a long journey with lots of different paths to take. My recommendation is to collaborate with peers in your own department as often as you can. There are lots of great ideas you can get by interacting with people in other disciplines.

“Doing my PhD has given me the opportunity to implement my own ideas and interact with people from around the world. I’ve attended a variety of events and conferences and am thrilled to see the number and variety of people investigating the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. It’s great to have the opportunity to discuss ideas.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the boom in awareness of prostate cancer in the UK over the past three years, and I’ve been proud to be a part of the research. I look forward to keeping up with the work of future PhD students in Progress magazine.”

Remote access: How do we reach men in the farthest regions of the UK?

At Prostate Cancer UK we work to meet men’s needs, wherever they are. In a recent blog I celebrated a year of local services across the UK. And now when I say ‘across the UK’ I really mean it. We’re getting boots on the ground in the remotest regions. We have a ManVan reaching men in rural Wales and we’ve been getting out and about in The Outer Hebdrides.

For anyone who’s wondering where that is, the Outer Hebrides (also called the Western Isles) are a collection of islands to the west of Scotland spanning over 130 miles from north to south. Around 27,000 people live across the 15 habited islands (there’s over 50 more which aren’t inhabited) and the islands have the highest incidence rate of prostate cancer in Scotland (joint with Shetland and followed by Lothian and the Scottish borders). So it’s a really important place for us to spread the word about the risk of prostate cancer.

Ann Ferguson, our Associate Director of Community Services, spent a week there to see how we’re reaching men in one of the farthest corners of the UK. She told me about her visit.

Ann Ferguson, Associate Director of Community Services

Ann Ferguson, Associate Director of Community Services

Ann: “It all started with one of our brilliant speaker volunteers, Duncan McGregor, who has advanced prostate cancer. Duncan lives in Inverness and delivers talks in the community. He was invited to give a talk in Stornaway (the largest town in the Western Isles), which went down so well he was asked to give more talks on the islands of North and South Uist, Benbecula, Barra and Eriskay.

“I became involved when this grew into a week long prostate cancer event organised by Kenna MacInnes, from the Western Isles Health Board and Mairi Campbell, chairman of a cancer support group. They arranged a seminar for the public and health professionals, and a series of public meetings. Attendance went up each day as word spread around the islands. Men were most concerned about their risk of developing prostate cancer and the symptoms to look out for. They were shocked to learn that every year almost as many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer as women are with breast cancer and that a family history of prostate cancer increases a man’s risk.

“While there I also spoke to GPs, nurses, the Director of Public Health, chairman of the Western Isles men’s cancer support group, local politicians and the Barra volunteer centre to find out more about the challenges they face. And we uncovered many opportunities to support them and help more men with our services.

“One of my meetings with a GP prompted him to look at his caseload of patients where he discovered a surprising increase in the number of prostate cancer patients compared with past years. A big concern for some GPs is how to support men with an elevated PSA when they don’t meet the criteria for referral to a specialist. They were very pleased to hear about our Specialist Nurses and information resources and to realise that we can support them in providing appropriate care for men with prostate cancer. The community nurses were espcially interested in increasing their knowledge of prostate cancer through our education programme.

Remoteness from health professionals is a real challenge for men

“We were made to feel very welcome on the islands and there was a genuine appreciation that we had taken the time to visit. But it was a lesson in how much we take for granted in day to day life. Travelling to and from the mainland could take anywhere between three hours (from North Uist from Skye) up to a six hour ferry trip from Barra to the mainland. Flying is much quicker but only an option for people who are up for landing on the beach in Barra where flight times vary with the tide!

Jumbo jet at Barra international airport

A jumbo jet at Barra international airport

“Driving around is not for the fainthearted as navigating the single track roads with numerous passing places means eyes on the road and not on the stunning scenery. Communications are somewhat hampered too. Standing on the roadside with my arm in the air to send an email via Blackberry was a certainly a different approach but it worked!

“There’s a language barrier too. Even before I stepped off the ferry so many of the conversations I heard were in Gaelic. A large percentage of the islands’ population speak Gaelic. Signs across the islands are in Gaelic first and English second and many of the older population revert to Gaelic as their main or only language.

“And the population is very sparse. Many of the residents live in the crofts dotted across the landscape so access to services they have to travel either by car, bicycle, on foot or using the infrequent public transport. The doctors’ surgery on Benbecula, for example, is on a road with nothing else around – it’s the only building. But this is what so many men rely on. Remoteness from health professionals is a challenge and having to travel to the mainland for treatment can be quite daunting for some men, particularly if that means being away from family and friends for several weeks.

“The trip was a fantastic experience and we met many lovely people. But it’s made me realise how important it is to have services which cater for everyone. We’re now looking to see how we can work with the people we met. We’ve invited some to come to our Glasgow office, meet the team and look at ways we can support them and support men on the islands. We also want to recruit local volunteers so we have a permanent presence on the islands to continue to raise awareness and show men that Prostate Cancer UK is there for men in the Outer Hebrides too.”