11 January 2018

Hull York Medical School Professor to lead Yorkshire Cancer Research £1.3 million palliative care improvement programme


Yorkshire Cancer Research is investing £1.3m in a four-year programme of research to improve the quality of palliative care in the region. Professor Fliss Murtagh Associate Director of the University of Hull’s recently established Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre and Professor of Palliative Medicine at Hull York Medical School, and Professor Michael Bennett at the University of Leeds’ Academic Unit of Palliative Care will lead a multi centre team to advance improvements in palliative care across Yorkshire.

The research will investigate how and when patients access palliative care with a view to introducing new measures to improve how symptoms are formally assessed and monitored, and equip clinical teams with the resources and training to help them address those symptoms.

Nearly 14,000 people die from cancer every year in Yorkshire1. In the weeks and months before they die, cancer patients often experience breathlessness, fatigue and high levels of pain, alongside other concerns such as practical worries i.e. finance, and the need for family support. Up to 8,000 patients in Yorkshire will experience moderate to severe pain before they die3, with up to 40% reporting uncontrolled pain4.

Palliative care aims to make patients as comfortable as possible by managing pain and other distressing symptoms and providing psychological and social support for patients and their family or carers. However, despite a growing need for specialist palliative care support, unlike other areas of medicine, the knowledge base to support the understanding of palliative needs and the development of specialist services is still relatively small. There are also inequalities in access to palliative care across Yorkshire. Previous studies have shown that in Leeds, just 65% of patients with cancer receive palliative care before they die2.

This programme will directly improve the health status and symptom experience of Yorkshire patients living with advanced cancer and support their families. It will achieve this by recognising early those who need help, implementing regular assessment and monitoring of symptoms and other concerns, and providing better management of the most challenging symptoms.

The team will work in partnership with local hospices and Clinical Commissioning Groups to develop the programme.

Professor Murtagh says: “At the Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre and Hull York Medical School we are committed to helping those with life limiting conditions live as well as they can, and, when the time comes giving them control of their symptoms and support at the end of their life.

‘Despite increased understanding of palliative care and improvements to services, unlike other areas of medicine, the knowledge base to support palliative care clinical practice remains small and systems of support are not fully developed to truly help all patients and their families when needed.

‘This programme will enable us to build on existing research undertaken by the University of Hull, Hull York Medical School to deliver a step change in palliative care across Yorkshire– helping clinicians identify and refer patients that require palliative care to ensure they are referred as soon as possible. It will also help Yorkshire hospices deliver palliative care more efficiently by implementing clear assessment and outcome measures. ‘

Professor Fliss Murtagh is a national leader in this field. She holds a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grant which has validated core measures for palliative care across England, developed a framework for assessment of complexity of palliative care needs, and has defined models of palliative care. She has worked with national organisations such as Hospice UK to ensure widespread uptake and training in use of the measures and these will now be available for those with far advanced cancer across Yorkshire, through this bid. Her particular area of focus will be the assessment and monitoring of symptoms and outcomes.

Fliss goes on to say: ‘Currently, almost all routine assessment of the quality of advanced cancer care focus on the structure and process of care, and not on outcomes. While structure and processes are essential for good care, neither guarantee it. It is the improvement in the well-being and health status of those receiving care and their families which really matters – the outcomes. Assessing outcomes enables us to become much closer to what concerns patients and families most; they reflect actual changes in peoples’ health status and wellbeing’.

‘The programme will deliver a step change in palliative care across Yorkshire, providing guidance for NHS policy makers, commissioners and providers on improving access to palliative care and ensuring that people with life-limiting illnesses are able to access the care and support they need and deserve. We are extremely grateful to Yorkshire Cancer Research for this vital funding.’

Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: ‘There is a huge unmet need to improve palliative care in our region. It is essential that patients are comfortable when they are going through the final stages of their experience with cancer, and that their families are supported on this journey.

‘This programme will involve hospices across Yorkshire and thousands of patients with advanced cancer. It will establish Yorkshire as a leading region for the highest possible quality palliative care. We are very proud to be funding this project and would like to thank all our supporters for making this investment possible.’

The project is part of a £3.6m investment by the charity in research that will improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer across Yorkshire. It is also one of a number of grants awarded to the University of Hull and Hull York Medical School to help improve the lives of those suffering with life limiting illnesses in the Yorkshire region.



1 https://www.cancerdata.nhs.uk/mortality/age_standardised_rates

2 Ziegler L, Hill K, Nielly L, Bennett MI, Higginson IJ, Murray SA, Stark D. Identifying psychological distress at key stages of the cancer illness trajectory: A systematic review of self-report measures. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 2011;41(3):619-36

3 van den Beuken-van Everdingen MH, de Rijke JM, Kessels AG, et al. Prevalence of pain in patients with cancer: a systematic review of the past 40 years. Annals of Oncology 2007;18(9):1437-49.

4 Breivik H, Cherny N, Collett B, de Conno F, Filbet M, Foubert AJ, Cohen R, Dow L. Cancer-related pain: a pan-European survey of prevalence, treatment, and patient attitudes. Ann Oncol. 2009 Aug;20(8):1420-33


Notes to Editors:

About Hull York Medical School

Hull York Medical School (HYMS) is a partnership between the two well-established Universities of Hull and York. Since opening in 2003, the School has become known as one of the UK’s most welcoming and inclusive medical schools with a reputation for innovative, inspiring, exciting and rigorous medical education. We are committed to ensuring that our students graduate from Hull York Medical School as excellent thinkers, evidence based practitioners and patient-centred communicators who are thoroughly prepared for clinical practice.

Hull York Medical School researchers conduct world-class research, much of this is interdisciplinary, spanning traditional subject boundaries and reaching out into other departments within the Universities of Hull and York. Our research spans those issues which are of critical importance to the country and the NHS including primary care, mental health, palliative care, public health and other applied clinical areas and in some key translational biomedical areas in thrombosis, haemostasis and metabolism, and immunology and infection. Research undertaken has attracted significant grants and funding including from Marie Curie (£118K,682 to improve the care of those with chronic lung conditions), the Wolfson Foundation (£500k to help create a world-leading centre for research into palliative care), Cancer Research UK (£343K to understand emergency presentation of lung and colorectal cancer) and from the British Heart Foundation (£900k to pursue cardiovascular and metabolic research). We strive for excellence in our research with 85% considered world-leading or internationally excellent (REF 2014).

Contact: Sarah Fewster, Marketing and Communications Manager, Hull York Medical School. T: 01482 463341 E: sarah.fewster@hyms.ac.uk

About the Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre
The Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre opened in 2017. Made possible by a £500, 000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, the Centre consolidates high-calibre research undertaken at Hull York Medical School and the University of Hull into a world-leading centre for research into palliative care which is helping people with life-limiting illnesses to access the best possible care.

The Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre is part of the University’s new £28-million health campus –  an investment that underlines the University’s commitment to improving the lives of people in the region by educating the region’s practitioners and driving improvements to healthcare in the region and beyond.

The Centre brings together a team of high-profile world-class researchers who are building an international reputation for their focus on improving the quality of life for people with life limiting illness and reducing the current inequalities in access to palliative care.

About Yorkshire Cancer Research

  • Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.


  • We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.


  • Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.


  • Current statistics show that 565 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.


  • We aim to:

- Be the leading authority on cancer in Yorkshire, understanding the problems and priorities in the region and sharing knowledge with partners.

- Raise awareness of cancer and how to prevent it by working in local communities, schools and colleges, sports clubs and with other health-related organisations.

- Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.

- Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient’s journey.

- Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.


For further information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Contact: Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: nikki@ycr.org.uk