Major national health award for brain tumour awareness campaign

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13 Feb 2013 10:36:05.360

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A campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children under 18 years has won a major national NHS Innovation award for its work in improving early cancer diagnosis.

The HeadSmart Be Brain Tumour Aware campaign was launched in June 2011 by the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at The University of Nottingham and Nottingham Children’s Hospital (Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust), The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, now called The Brain Tumour Charity.

The campaign was funded by The Health Foundation, Closing the Gap Campaign and relied upon the National Cancer Research Institute Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Research Network (NCRI CCL RN) Clinical Champions in each of the treatment centres to raise awareness amongst patients and their families, local paediatricians and general practitioners. They also collected crucial information from patients as they were diagnosed to measure the changes in referral practice to drive the campaign.

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By speeding up the diagnosis of brain tumours, the project partners believe it will reduce the risk of early deaths, reduce the risk of long term disability and enhance confidence in the NHS.

At a ceremony in London on Tuesday February 12, representatives of HeadSmart campaign will be presented with a prestigious NHS Innovation Challenge Prize worth £100,000. The prize is awarded for the achievement of an original and significant breakthrough in the early diagnosis of cancer.

The prize money will be used by the Nottingham research team to:
• revise the guideline during 2013 with the most recent published evidence,
• contribute to the research costs of the programme’s evaluation and
• develop training packages to enhance training for students, trainees and established practitioners in primary and secondary care in medical, nursing and allied professionals

Accelerating referral

The HeadSmart Campaign was launched to accelerate speed of referral across the UK by reducing the interval between symptom onset and the brain scan necessary to make the diagnosis, which was previously measured as a median interval of 14.5 weeks. Recent information collected across the UK CCLG RN treatment centres shows this interval reducing to 7.5 weeks. There are also signs of improvements being detected in timing of referral from primary care to hospital for scanning.

Since its launch, the campaign has attracted considerable interest having been presented widely at professional meetings and conferences, discussed in the UK and European Parliaments and attracted international interest resulting in programmes using similar methods being established in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Iran.

Lead clinician on HeadSmart, Professor David Walker from the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre said: “We are delighted to have won this prestigious award, which recognises the considerable impact of HeadSmart Be Brain Tumour Aware campaign on public awareness of the symptoms of brain cancer in children in the UK, and beyond. Brain cancer is the biggest cancer killer for children and adults under 40 years of age. Delays in diagnosis for children and young people are a particular clinical problem as the symptoms are similar to other common children’s illnesses, and are affected by age and behaviour changes associated with growth and development.

On-going evaluation

“This innovative campaign is the product of sustained collaboration between academic, professional and charitable partners, communicating directly with the public and the profession to raise awareness of symptom clusters, to support parents to raise initial concerns and to support the doctor in providing reassurance where appropriate, selection of patients for early review and identifying those who need immediate referral for brain scanning. Criteria for reassurance have been a particular focus of valued feedback from the profession, there is no current evidence of scan over-usage.

“We believe that accelerating diagnosis will significantly contribute to measurable improvements in outcomes for this vulnerable childhood group in due course. It is currently too soon to expect to measure these. We will be looking for reductions in early deaths and disability as well as enhanced confidence in the NHS in this area of paediatric practice. The Campaign will have on-going evaluation to measure these aspects and the prize money will be very helpful to assist with this.

“Brain cancer, across the age groups, is an under-funded area of research in the UK, we believe that HeadSmart Be Brain Tumour Aware campaign will help further to raise awareness of this very serious group of cancers and their devastating ability to disable and threaten lives of children and adults across the ages.”

Visionary campaign

Dean of the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Ian Hall, added: “HeadSmart is a visionary campaign and a prime example of how our researchers and clinicians are constantly pioneering new ideas and treatments which are having a real and positive impact on people’s lives. The campaign can be credited with speeding diagnosis of children with brain tumours over the past two years. This should contribute to minimising any long-term consequences of underlying disease and reducing any side effects from treatment.”

The NHS Innovation Challenge Prize Expert Panel, which judged the award, was impressed with the HeadSmart team’s ‘admirable motivation, determination, dedication, enthusiasm and leadership’ and noted that the project was impressive in design, delivery and engagement of the groups and agencies needed to be mobilised to make a difference.

National Clinical Director for Cancer and End of Life Care Professor Sir Mike Richards also had praise for the HeadSmart project. Professor Richards, who has recently taken on the role of Domain Lead for Preventing People from Dying Prematurely at the NHS Commissioning Board, said: “I believe this to be a worthy winner and that an Innovation Challenge Prize would help to drive this important work forward — thereby saving lives and reducing morbidity.”

Huge achievement

Sarah Lindsell, CEO of The Brain Tumour Charity said: “We’re honoured that the HeadSmart campaign has received the NHS Innovation Award. It not only shows the huge achievement of the campaign thus far but also recognises the ongoing work that the campaign still has ahead of it to reduce the diagnosis times of brain tumours in children and young people. Working so closely with those affected by this devastating disease, we see first-hand how significant such a campaign can be and we are immensely proud that the success of the campaign has been recognised with this award.”

The ceremony will be held on Tuesday 12 February 2013 at the Royal Society of Arts, hosted by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Sir Bruce Keogh and Sir David Nicholson.

The award comes ahead of Brain Tumour Awareness Month in March. During this time most of the brain tumour charities in the UK work simultaneously to promote brain tumour awareness and raise funds for research and to support those affected by a brain tumour. The Brain Tumour Charity is launching the first ever Bandanas for Brain Tumours Day to kick off BTAM on 1st March to raise funds for The Charity. For more information please go to

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Professor David Walker on +44 (0)115 823 0632, or Lizzie Allinson at The Brain Tumour Charity on +44 (0)7538 744 143,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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