We've achieved so much for men with prostate cancer throughout the pandemic thanks to you. Our Chief Executive, Angela Culhane explains some changes to how we work, the challenges we face, and how we're more focused on our priorities than ever.

28 Aug 2020

The last six months have been challenging for everyone. But with your help, we’ve been able to act quickly and decisively to achieve a huge amount for men and their families. Here are the challenges we're overcoming thanks to your support.

Treatment delays and uncertainty: supporting men and health professionals

When the pandemic reached the UK, we listened to what men with prostate cancer and their families needed. Thousands of you told us that delays to scheduled NHS treatment, tests and surgeries were your most pressing concerns. That’s why we’ve been working closely with the NHS to help clinicians and push for what men need from national decision-makers.

In the early stages of the pandemic, diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer simply stopped in some parts of the country, creating a lot of anxiety for men and their loved ones. 

In urgency, we worked with Cancer Alliances and Health Boards across the UK to get services for men facing prostate cancer back up and running. We hosted virtual conferences to help professionals prioritise men who are at risk of harm from their prostate cancer yet stuck on waiting lists, and we created guidelines to advise clinicians on supporting men remotely. We also joined the One Cancer Voice network to put forward a 12 point plan to the government to get treatments and research back on track. 

Many men who were newly diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer were unable to access chemotherapy due to its effect on the immune system, which increased their risk of Covid-19. We immediately stepped in and asked NHS England to make the latest hormone therapies available for these men, these have equivalent survival benefit without the same impact on the immune system. NHS England answered our plea and men are continuing to have treatment that’s just as effective from the comfort of their homes. A huge win, thanks to you.

NHS England answered our plea and men are continuing to have treatment that’s just as effective from the comfort of their homes. A huge win, thanks to you.

 

Our Specialist Nurses are on the line every weekday; our online community gives people affected by prostate cancer a channel to feel connected, and we’re also providing free video conferencing accounts to prostate cancer support network leaders across the UK to help them host virtual peer support groups while they can’t meet in person. 

Fundraising from home

It’s thanks to your passion and energy that we’ve achieved so much for men. But despite having a huge number of generous people donating money and time, our income for 2020/21 is projected to drop by around half.

Lockdown restrictions meant all major face-to-face fundraising was cancelled or postponed. The areas hit hardest were our sporting events like marathons and cycling events, plus our community fundraising activities.  

Unsurprisingly, you found creative ways to fundraise from home. There were ultra-marathons in back gardens, eccentric head shaves and all manner of daily workouts. Inspired by your creativity, we developed new virtual products that anyone can do from home and their local area. There was the #StayPutt golf challenge, and The Big Staying Inn Quiz with its own celebrity edition. Right now you can sign up to March The Month or take part in The Big Golf Race with a few friends.

With the world now opening back up, our fundraising is looking brighter, with promising trends in regular donations, golf fundraising and new corporate partnerships. Predicting financial recovery is difficult, and it will be some time before we’re back to pre Covid-19 income levels. But if the passion of our movement is anything to go by, we’re heading in the right direction. Thank you.

Protecting the future of research

COVID-19 has had two major impacts on our research programme. In March, many clinical trials were forced to stop, and university and hospital research labs were closed. Delays and disruption caused by these closures put many of our research projects at risk. 

We worked closely with the research community to manage the worst of this risk, and believe that although delayed, most of our research will continue at the same cost, and with the same ambition as before. We understand the complex challenges of prostate cancer and have a lot of confidence in our research strategy, focused on the areas where we can have the greatest impact for men. Working hand-in-hand with the researchers we fund, and thanks to your donations, we’ve not had to apply cuts to any of our existing grants, which includes over fifty projects. We’ll fund all of these research programmes as long as they’re viable in the long-term, working in collaboration with researchers and advisors to make sure they can deliver results for men.

The second impact of COVID-19 on our research programme is on our future funding plans. Before the pandemic, we launched our new research strategy and developed an exciting plan for new areas of investment focused on the greatest need and biggest impact for men.  

Thanks to your donations, we’ve not had to apply cuts to any of our existing grants, which includes over fifty projects.

 

Unfortunately, this is where the pandemic hit us hardest. We’ve had to scale back a lot of those plans, suspending some of the pipeline of new research activity and delaying some new investments. Many projects will remain on hold, as the research environment recovers. The longer we’re unable to fund new research projects, the more precarious this research community becomes. And without funding new researchers, the developments in treatment and diagnosis for prostate cancer that men so desperately need is just not possible.  

Medical research has suffered everywhere. We need to work together as a research community, and that’s why we’re so grateful that hundreds of you wrote to your MP as part of our campaign with The Association of Medical Research Charities and 151 other charities to make an urgent demand: we want the Government to match every pound invested in medical research by people like you, for at least three years. We’re eagerly waiting for a response from the chancellor.

We’re totally committed to funding ground-breaking research to stop men dying from this disease. And we’re already seeing some progress. Thanks to help from Movember, we’ve recently launched a new call for research projects focused on delivering better treatments for men with localised prostate cancer, one of the cornerstones of our new research strategy. We’ve also had an amazing response to our urgent appeal to protect the future of research.

Changing our structure to adapt to our new environment

We’ve had to change the shape of the organisation because of the financial impact of the pandemic. With the forecasted drop in our income, we had to take swift and decisive action to reduce spending across all areas for the current financial year. To our huge disappointment, we had no alternative but to make a permanent reduction in our employment costs which reduced our staff by almost a third. There were many painful decisions, and it was a real blow to lose so many hard-working, passionate and talented people.

Although this has been difficult, our team has been incredible and, working together, we reached a final structure which came into effect on 1st August. Our new structure delivers the cost reduction we need, while allowing us to continue essential work on our top priority: funding research for a future where prostate cancer doesn’t limit lives.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Missed diagnoses: help us find men at risk

Risk of Covid-19 meant many men have not had conversations with their GP about their prostate cancer risk. We’re concerned that this could mean many men have their prostate cancer diagnosed too late. Referrals for suspected prostate cancer have plummeted. That’s why we’re trying to encourage men at risk to speak to their GPs.  

This September, we launch a nationwide campaign, encouraging men at higher risk of prostate cancer to talk to their GP about whether a test is right for them. Keep your eyes peeled for how you can get involved.

On behalf of everyone at Prostate Cancer UK, and the men whose lives you’re changing, I’d like to say a huge thank you for your help during this strange time. Together, we’ll overcome these challenges and continue our fight for a future where no one has to worry about prostate cancer. 

Men, we are with you.

Angela Culhane, Chief Executive.

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