NHS’s cancer director pays tribute to Dame Deborah James on anniversary

The NHS’s national cancer director has today reflected on the incredible legacy of Dame Deborah James on the first anniversary of her death.

Dame Cally Palmer praised the “inspiring” and “fearless” bowel cancer awareness work of Dame Deborah, which could save thousands of lives across the country – with record numbers now getting checked for cancer.

Between the months of May and July last year, referrals for suspected lower gastro-intestinal (GI) cancers reached record levels, with over 170,500 people referred for checks during that period – up over 30,000 compared to the same period last year. Suspected lower GI urgent referrals across 22/23 were 113% of the levels seen in 21/22, and 127% of the levels from pre-pandemic.

Dame Deborah was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35, and campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms, which include blood in your poo, change in bowel habits, unexpected weight loss or fatigue.

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS national cancer director said: “Deborah tackled her cancer and her treatment with grace and resilience, with humour, and with the ability to inspire others.

“I was privileged to work with her on a number of occasions to raise the profile of bowel cancer and the importance of early detection. Her warmth, energy and passion were exceptional.

“Deborah has undoubtedly saved lives through her fearless campaigning.

“She changed the way we think about bowel cancer as a country, and with many more people coming forward to get checked, she has prevented other families from going through the same experiences as she did.

“So, as we reflect on Deborah’s anniversary, it is vital we continue her brave work. So our message to you is – like Deborah, don’t be prudish about poo, come forward and speak to your GP if you have noticed any symptoms you are concerned about.”