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3 August 2012
HeadSmart campaign shows success within one year

A campaign involving University of Nottingham experts that aims to reduce the time it takes doctors to diagnose a brain tumour in children and young people is showing positive results within the first year of its launch.

The HeadSmart campaign, launched last June, is already showing laudable results in reducing diagnosis times, based on data revealed in May at a major child health conference.

The data, collected in the months before and after the campaign launch, show a reduction in the average length of time it takes to diagnose a brain tumour from 9.3 to 7.5 weeks. The findings were unvreiled at The Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health Conference in Glasgow.

The campaign was the brainchild of the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at The University of Nottingham, Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It resulted from concern among health professionals and parents about the length of time it was taking to diagnose brain tumours in children, thus delaying treatment.

The Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre is a key project within the University’s new appeal, Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, which is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. Find out more about our research and how you can support us at      

“Brain tumours in children can be very difficult to diagnose for two reasons,” said Dr Sophie Wilne, a consultant paediatric oncologist at Nottingham Children’s Hospital. “The initial symptoms are often non-specific and can occur with other more common and less serious childhood illnesses. There is also lack of awareness among healthcare professionals that brain tumours do occur in children. Most childhood brain tumours are curable and we know that if we reduce the time taken to diagnosis we will reduce the likelihood of a child suffering from long-term, life-altering disability.”

A study of 155 children diagnosed before the launch last year showed that the average interval between onset of symptoms and diagnosis was 9.3 weeks. Recent figures from 219 children diagnosed since the launch show a reduction to 7.5 weeks. These figures are encouraging but highlight the need for further education of the symptoms caused by brain tumours for both parents and health professionals.

The campaign is based on a clinical guideline that is endorsed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and accredited by NHS Evidence. The campaign aims to enhance awareness of the signs and symptoms of childhood brain tumours among parents and health professionals, and guide them about what to do if they are concerned. The resources include a website, symptom awareness cards and other literature, which are being distributed and publicised around the country. The campaign is designed to provide parents and carers with knowledge about the initial symptoms of a brain tumour. This knowledge will help them to decide whether their child needs to see a doctor and help them effectively communicate their concerns with the doctor.

HeadSmart also provides health professionals with information and advice on how to identify the cause of symptoms and what the next steps should be if they think the child might have a brain tumour. It also includes an online education module for health professionals. The module is designed to teach doctors about the symptoms and signs caused by brain tumours and how to decide which children and their families can be reassured, which should be reviewed and which need immediate scanning.

Dr David Walker, Professor of Paediatric Oncology at The University of Nottingham’s Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre and lead clinician on the HeadSmart campaign, was pleased to have had so much support from colleagues from the children brain tumour centres across the UK and Ireland. “They have played key roles in sharing the campaign messages with local health services and assisted with the recording of symptom intervals as patients present to them. These activities have enhanced the confidence of paediatricians in both reassuring patients who do not need scans, as well as identifying those who need urgent scanning. Their participation in real time measurement of symptom interval allows us to demonstrate the effectiveness of the HeadSmart campaign and enhance its momentum.”

Recently the HeadSmart campaign has been shortlisted for the BMJ’s Improving Healthcare Award for Excellence in Healthcare Education. This recognises the work HeadSmart has already done to raise critical awareness of this issue.

Sarah Lindsell, CEO at Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust has welcomed the initial results. “This is, of course, great news,” she said. “The HeadSmart campaign has been going for less than a year, so to see results at this stage is just phenomenal.” But she isn’t complacent. “We still have a long way to go and the whole team, across the partner organisations, is working hard to ensure that medical professionals and parents recognise the symptoms of brain tumours in children and young people and so further reduce the time it takes for tumours to be diagnosed.”




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