‘Brave’ Bill Turnbull saved lives, says head of Prostate Cancer UK

·4-min read
Bill Turnbull (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)
Bill Turnbull (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)

Bill Turnbull saved lives and encouraged “thousands and thousands” of men to come forward for testing through his campaigning, the chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK has said.

The former BBC Breakfast presenter died at home in Suffolk aged 66 on Wednesday after being diagnosed with the disease in November 2017.

Since then, Turnbull campaigned to raise awareness among those at risk as an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK, which works to improve awareness and provides training and funding.

Thousands and thousands of men have come forward as a result of him helping us raise awareness of Prostate Cancer UK - and him just telling his story

Laura Kerby

The charity’s chief executive Laura Kerby told the PA news agency the journalist and broadcaster “leaves a resounding impact”.

She said: “Thousands and thousands of men have come forward as a result of him helping us raise awareness of Prostate Cancer UK – and him just telling his story.

“He has saved lives – 11,500 men die in the UK every year of prostate cancer and he would have helped some people come earlier (for testing) so that they could have avoided that.

“One in eight men are affected, one in four black men, and he has made a huge impact in reaching into those communities, as a man telling his story, being brave.

“We will be forever grateful for everything that he’s done to help men find out about their prostate cancer risk, and everything he’s done for us at Prostate Cancer UK.”

Bill Turnbull used his popularity, he used his personality, his warmth, his love of football, to really drive that message

Laura Kerby

Ms Kerby said that after Turnbull announced his diagnosis, levels of referrals to the NHS increased by about 20% and her charity’s helpline also saw a large increase in calls.

Broadcaster and author Stephen Fry also revealed he was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in 2018, sparking what has been described as the “Turnbull/Fry effect” – a marked increase in referrals.

Ms Kerby said the combined publicity had had a “significant impact”.

She added: “Prostate cancer (became for a time) the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the Turnbull/Fry effect, as we call it, had a huge impact on raising that awareness.

“I think anybody that’s prepared to come forward and tell their story open and honestly, and the impact of prostate cancer on their lives, can really help.

“But Bill Turnbull used his popularity, he used his personality, his warmth, his love of football, to really drive that message.

“It’s now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and that’s very much down to the impacts that he helped us make.”

Addressing the reluctance of some men to have themselves checked, Ms Kerby added: “The message is that we really want men to become aware of their risk of prostate cancer.

“Men over the age of 50, black men over the age of 45, and anybody with a family history needs to get very aware of whether they are at risk or not. They are the highest risks.

“Therefore we have a risk-awareness checker – a 30-second checker – on our website and we would really appeal to men to come forward and take that risk checker and, if they have any concerns, seek advice and support. It’s really important.”

Ms Kerby said early prostate cancer is often asymptomatic but can be cured if caught early.

However, she added: “Now unfortunately in Bill’s particular instance it was too late, his diagnosis was too late.

“And I think that’s why he was so compelled and so passionate about telling his story so that other men would come forward and check their risks.”

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “On behalf of the whole NHS, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Bill Turnbull.

“Bill’s openness in speaking about his prostate cancer encouraged thousands more men to come forward for help earlier than they may have done otherwise – with record numbers of men now taking the decision to get an NHS check – undoubtedly saving many lives.

“I would echo his call for anyone who has concerns or is at a higher risk of cancer to come forward so you can be seen and treated as quickly as possible.”