The sad truth of why charities need influencers

Baroness Tessa Jowell

The news of the death of Tessa Jowell on Saturday from a brain tumour was greeted by an outpouring of affection. The tributes were to a woman who – above all – was thoroughly decent, warm, friendly and principled and who had gained respect and admiration from all sides of the political spectrum.

Her career saw many notable moments, including advancing equal pay for women, the SureStart programme for children and, of course, bringing the Olympics to London in 2012.

But her lasting achievement may turn out to be what she managed to achieve in the final months of her life, influencing the government to speed up and change its course on the treatment and research into brain tumours.

As someone who works for The Brain Tumour Charity I am inevitably biassed, but we have been astonished at the speed at which things changed as a result of Tessa Jowell’s intervention into this area.

Many of the decisions that have been and are being taken by the UK Government are on things that we – as a charity – have been advocating for a considerable time.

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I’m going to trek through the Sahara in 2019

I’ve decided to do one of those mad challenges that people occasionally embark on. I’m going to be taking on a Sahara Trek next February – five days ploughing through arduous terrain in Morocco and it’s all in aid of The Brain Tumour Charity.

I promise not to bore you too much over the next year, but I will be sharing my ‘journey’, where appropriate.

I’m not exactly in great shape, so part of the challenge will be getting fit again and ready to spend hours in scorching temperatures, trudging through sand with a pack om my back.

It would be wonderful to be able to count on your support – there will be as many lows as there will be highs, I’m sure.

> And it’s dead easy to donate via my Justgiving page

Thank you!


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Why we need charities to cut through ‘sensational’ health stories more than ever

It was a typical Daily Mail health story: Having an egg a day can cut your risk of stroke by 12%.

On the face of it, great. There are 152000 cases of stroke in the UK every year, so if this is true it’s a great weapon in the battle against it.

But, of course, thats not the full story. If you read more closely, you’ll see that the lead scientist admitted that: “research is needed to understand the connection between egg consumption and stroke risk”.

What was worse was that there’s no UK stroke expert included in the article – only someone from the ‘clearly unbiased’ Egg Nutrition Centre.

That’s why I was relieved to see that the Stroke Association were more cautious in their reception of the research. 

Clickbait headlines

Medical reporting is generally fairly suspect in mass-market media. One small-scale piece of research can sometimes be trumpeted as a major cause for celebration or change in diet, when clearly there’s more to it than that. 

It’s why cause-related charities have such a big role to play in how we perceive sensationalist stories.

The claims that strawberries/coffee/red wine/chocolate can prevent cancer/heart disease/dementia (delete as appropriate) have been around for years – most of them with very little substance.

The likes of the BHFAlzheimers ResearchStroke Association and many more have teams of experts used to assessing these sort of stories, many of which are – frankly – hogwash.

These teams provide a level-headed and often cautious response that we’d do well to accept.

By contrast the positive news this week about the early trials of a new Alzheimers drug were welcomed across the board, including by the aforementioned Alzheimers Research. 

Media proliferation needs a counterpoint

In the era before multichannel TV and the internet, the flimsily-researched, sensational story got short shrift.

There was enough news to go round, and clickbait headlines weren’t generally necessary.

In the 21st century, that has understandably changed. A possibly erroneous story printed on one website gets copied and reproduced in countless other areas, this proliferating a false assertion.

So we need voices of trust and authority to sort the wheat from the chaff more than ever before.

And this is just another reason why charities need your support.