In partnership with Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus and coach operator, the giant NHS blue bus will be branded with an eye-catching design and will visit five areas across the country where early diagnosis rates for cancer are among the lowest.
Kicking off its tour, following World Cancer Day on Saturday, the bus will head to its first stop in Blackburn on Monday 6 February, before moving on to Sunderland, Barnsley, and Leicester and will complete its route in London on Friday 10 February.
From the bus, teams of NHS staff, alongside nurses from Cancer Research UK, will provide expert advice to help make passers-by aware of common cancer signs and symptoms, the importance of earlier diagnosis, and where they can go for support or further advice.
As part of the health service’s ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign, the tour is the latest NHS initiative to help drive earlier cancer diagnosis and tackle health inequalities, ultimately improving survival rates.
Thanks to these awareness-raising campaigns, more people than ever before have had potentially lifesaving NHS cancer checks, with over 2.8 million people seen last year – up by almost a fifth in the same period before the pandemic (2.35 million in 2018/19).
This has had a direct impact on the number of people diagnosed with cancer – with more than 320,000 people receiving treatment for cancer over the last year (Nov 2021 – Oct 2022) – the highest number on record, and up by more than 8,000 in the same period pre-pandemic.
The NHS is committed to its long-term plan to diagnose and treat cancers earlier. All GP teams now have direct access to potentially lifesaving tests for patients – helping to cut waiting times and speeding up a cancer diagnosis for tens of thousands of patients or the all-clear for many more.
National Clinical Director for Cancer, Professor Peter Johnson, said: “We have seen a fantastic response to our Help Us, Help You cancer campaigns so far and are already seeing record levels of people coming forward for cancer checks, with thousands more people starting cancer treatment than in previous years.
“This bus tour is another example of how we are going further in our ambition to diagnose more cancers at an earlier stage than ever before, by engaging directly with people in their own communities as they are going about their daily routines.
“Trained staff will be on hand to discuss any concerns people may have about cancer symptoms and to inform them on what to look out for. It’s vitally important that people are aware of what is normal for their bodies and that when they notice something isn’t right, they feel empowered to come forward.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “More people are surviving cancer than ever before, but we are keen to catch more cancers early as that is the best way to improve patient outcomes.
“We’re prioritising early diagnosis and have opened 92 community diagnostic centres that have delivered over 2.8 million tests, scans and checks including to detect cancer.
“It is important that patients do not ignore symptoms in the belief they will simply go away and instead look at information on the NHS website and see their GP if they have symptoms.”
NHS doctor and TV presenter Dr Dawn Harper will be joining the bus for part of its tour and speaking to the public about common symptoms, what to look out for and when to visit their GP for a health check.
She said: “We know that cancers are more likely to be treated successfully if caught at an early stage and that’s why the NHS Bus-ting Cancer Tour is so important to spread the word far and wide and encourage people with potential signs of cancer to come forward.
“Body vigilance is absolutely crucial – if something in your body doesn’t feel right, contact your GP practice. The NHS is here and wants to see you.”
After the tour, the bus will continue to operate a normal Stagecoach service in Manchester until the end of the year and will continue to carry the lifesaving cancer messaging, thanks to a donation of the space from Global Radio.
Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director for Stagecoach said: “We are really proud to be supporting this great cause and raising more awareness in checking for the early signs of cancer.
“Our services cover towns and cities right across the UK, so we were delighted to partner with the NHS in getting the message out to local communities. If we can prompt even one person to get checked by their GP, then it’s a worthwhile endeavour for us.
“Our ‘Giving for Good’ charity committee has supported numerous campaigns and charities throughout the year and it is always a pleasure to see these ideas come to fruition to help more people, including our valued customers and employees.”
Chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Michelle Mitchell, said: “With the number of people in the UK diagnosed with cancer set to rise by a third by 2040, awareness campaigns such as this, and the commitment to invest in community diagnostics centres, are important to help ensure more cancers are diagnosed at their earliest stage – when people are more likely to survive their disease.
“Beating cancer means beating it for everyone and we are delighted our Cancer Research UK nurses are supporting this work to help make sure all those affected by cancer receive the care and outcomes they deserve.”
One person who has been through cancer treatment and is urging anyone concerned about symptoms to come forward is the father of England and Liverpool football star Jordan Henderson, Brian.
Brian Henderson, 66, is a survivor of both mouth and skin cancer and underwent treatment in 2014 at the Sunderland Royal Hospital.
The surgery was a success and Brian was cancer free but during his routine check-ups, he mentioned his wife had spotted lesions on his back. When they were removed, they were tested and found to be cancerous.
Brian said: “After having cancer twice, I know how important it is to be body vigilant and look out for any changes that could be cancer.
“I am incredibly passionate about encouraging others to not let the thought of cancer play on their minds – it is always better to test, find out and get the treatment you might need.
“The NHS were brilliant and saved my life – no matter what the outcome they will be there for you, but catching cancer early is so important to ensure the best possible outcome.
“I am so happy to still be here to watch my son succeed in his career and live my life to the fullest – and am incredibly thankful to the NHS.”
Brian is exceptionally grateful for the team who saved his life and is passionate about repaying the NHS through fundraising, alongside his football-star son Jordan Henderson, including raising £85k to fund a machine to help with cancer diagnoses and auctioning off signed football shirts.
Another patient encouraging people to visit their GPs as early as possible is Jay McLaughlin, 43, who is currently undergoing treatment.
Jay was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer in January 2021 and attributed the symptoms of feeling gassy and bloated to his diet or stress.
However, the fitness fanatic was immediately referred for treatment at Royal London Hospital following a GP consultation and received the all-clear in January 2022.
Jay is currently undergoing treatment for a 5cm tumour on his liver at St Bart’s and wants people to get their cancers diagnosed as early as possible so they will have a better health outcome.
The NHS’s Help Us Help You campaign addresses the stigma and fears surrounding cancer, with recent surveys showing over half (53%) say they worry about cancer every few months or more.
It is not the first time the NHS has visited communities with lower early diagnosis rates for cancer, having more than doubled the number of community lung truck sites as part of our drive to catch more cancers at stage one or two.
More than 30,000 people are invited every month for a Lung MOT – with over one thousand (1,300) people diagnosed with lung cancer earlier, and more than three-quarters (77%) caught at either stage one or two.
The bus will be taking the below route: