The Woking-based family of the late campaigner Dame Deborah James, who died of bowel cancer, has written to all UK political party leaders, urging them to make the upcoming general election a landmark moment for people affected by cancer.  

In the open letter, Dame Deborah’s husband, parents, brother and sister announced that they are supporting Cancer Research UK’s document Longer, better lives: A manifesto for cancer research and care that calls for the government to publish a long-term cancer strategy for England within one year of the election. They said this will help give more people affected by cancer more time with the people they love.  

Dame Deborah, 40, a former Winston Churchill School pupil, died at her parents’ home in south Woking in 2022 while receiving end-of-life care from a Woking Hospice team.

She had inspired the nation to donate nearly £7.5million for cancer research in the last months of her life, and was invested as a dame by the Prince of Wales when he was the Duke of Cambridge during a visit to the family home.

She had been diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016, when she was deputy head teacher at The Matthew Arnold School in Staines.

Her family issued the letter to coincide with bowel cancer awareness month. Dame Deborah shared her cancer experience with unflinching honesty and tackling many taboos, encouraging everyone to “check their poo”, in the hope of improving early diagnosis. 

Alistair James, Dame Deborah's father, said: “NHS staff are working as hard as they can with what they have, but there simply isn’t enough resource to go around. This means too many people are being left waiting too long to be diagnosed and is really worrying when we know that early diagnosis saves lives.  

“Deborah was a passionate advocate of early diagnosis. We are continuing the work she started by joining Cancer Research UK to urge the government to deliver a long-term cancer strategy for England. Driving earlier diagnosis must be a key part of this to ensure everyone has access to the care that they need, when they need it.” 

NHS England aims for 75 per cent of patients urgently referred for suspected cancer to have it either diagnosed or ruled out within 28 days. This has not yet been met for lower gastrointestinal cancers, which includes bowel. The latest data shows that had it been met, in February 2024 alone around 3,800 more people would have found out whether they had cancer on time.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “People affected by cancer are not getting the care that they need and deserve. We urgently need more staff and equipment for the NHS, alongside reform to cancer services.  

“We are incredibly grateful to Dame Deborah James’ family for supporting us in our call for a long-term cancer strategy for England. We need assurance that cancer is a priority for the government. That’s why we’re urging all political parties to commit to publishing a strategy within one year of the general election.”