Macmillan staff gathered on Westminster Bridge outside the Houses of Parliament. They are wearing green Macmillan t-shirts.

General Election 2024: Five talking points from ITV's first debate

Published: 04 June 2024
On Tuesday 4th June, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took part in their first televised leader’s debate of the election campaign. Here are some of the key points from the debate. 
Portrait photo of Jack Wakefield

Jack Wakefield Campaign Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support

General Election TV debates 

In the run-up to the General Election, leading figures from the different political parties are taking part in various televised debates. The first was on STV yesterday, between leaders of the main Scottish parties, while tonight, Tuesday 6th June, we saw the first featuring the two men who could become our the next UK Prime Minister. 

The current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Rishi Sunak, and leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer answered moving questions rooted in personal experience from members of the audience, as well as from moderator and ITV news presenter, Julie Etchingham.

Topics such as the NHS, cost-of-living, immigration, education and the climate crisis were all discussed. Here are some of the key points about some of the issues that matter to people living with cancer.

1. No quick fix to NHS waiting lists   

Waiting for medical attention feels tougher than it has ever been, as Janet from Telford in the audience described. She's a cancer survivor who lost a loved one while they waited for surgery. Waiting lists for treatment across the NHS have been hitting record highs and agonising waits for A&E, ambulances and GP appointments have all become the norm. This all plays a part in the experience of what it’s like to be a cancer patient.    

For cancer alone, people are waiting far too long to get diagnosed and treated. In 2023, almost 90,000 people with cancer across the UK waited more than two months to start treatment from the point of either urgent referral or first suspicion of cancer. Healthcare professionals are doing the very best they can, but the system cannot cope with the demand.     

Both Starmer and Sunak mentioned some headline policies to reduce waiting lists, but beyond the soundbites what we need are fully resourced sustainable solutions to the longstanding challenges within our health system, which is why we're calling on all parts of government to work together to properly tackle the issues facing growing numbers of people with cancer now and in the future, not just knee-jerk, short term ideas to grab headlines.   

2. Cancer: The 'c word' they wouldn't say

Cancer is usually the word nobody wants to hear. It’s the UK’s biggest killer and the disease people are most fearful about, something Janet from the audience raised early in the debate. But neither leader responded directly to that experience. When it comes to who forms the next government, cancer is a word that we really do need to hear. Cancer can no longer be left behind as the 'forgotten C' in the shadow of Covid. The tough reality is, almost everyone will be impacted by cancer at some point in their life, either by being diagnosed themselves or by seeing someone they care about go through it. 

Cancer care is at a tipping point and real people’s lives are in the balance. But it doesn’t have to be this way - the next government could, with the right plans, revolutionise cancer care for people now and in the future.    

If this is important to you, we have easy, practical steps you can take to help us ensure cancer care is a top priority for whoever forms the next government. Simply sign up today and be the first to receive our short election campaign updates with tips and ideas for how you can help.

3. The cost of living with cancer 

We heard about the serious hardships facing many people and families across the UK, including Paula from the audience who is forced to batch cook to save on energy bills and feels trapped ‘working to live’. For far too many a cancer diagnosis also comes with significant financial pressures. At a time when someone receives that life-altering news that they have cancer, far too many people face added anxieties as they consider how they will pay their bills, care for their loved ones and even heat their homes as their incomes reduce and they face increased costs. 

Macmillan is here to help if you’re experiencing financial pressures as a result of your diagnosis. 
You can also speak to a Macmillan Financial Guide. They are available Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. To speak to someone:

In the coming few weeks, we need to hear more from leaders about how they would actually provide support for people who need it the most. This is why we’re asking whoever forms the next UK Government to prioritise a long-term strategy that reimagines how we treat people with cancer. One that doesn’t only treat the cancer, but addresses the impact on every aspect of a person’s life, including healthcare, finances, work and housing, so that their care truly revolves around who they are and what they need.

4. No two experiences are the same

Whilst there was some talk of cutting waiting lists and improving care, it was talked about generally and without acknowledgement of the individual factors that play a huge part in the quality of care a person receives. Transforming people’s experience requires acknowledgement and awareness of how factors such as your ethnicity, where you live, and the levels of deprivation in your area play a significant role in how fast you’ll be diagnosed and treated. 

The next UK Prime Minister needs to have a clear understanding of their role in improving the experience for everyone. Revolutionising cancer care needs to start with tackling the inequalities in it.

5. Hope beyond the headlines  

We heard lots of catch phrases and memorable headlines, likely workshopped and tested ahead of tonight. But what we really need in the coming weeks are detailed, thorough plans for how each party would address the crises in cancer care and our wider NHS. People are already waiting far too long for the results of diagnostic tests and the treatments they need, we can’t be left waiting for the next government to act. 

And the truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. The desire to improve treatment and care has been our driving force since Macmillan began more than a century ago. Cancer care has led the way in changing the healthcare system for the better before, with Macmillan driving the creation of Cancer Nurse Specialists to ensure patients are treated by professionals with the right skills and expertise, and by developing first-of-their-kind assessments to ensure every person diagnosed has the best chance of receiving the care and support they need.   

How you can help this General Election

It’s time to lead the way once again. Together, with politicians and partners, we can transform cancer care for a more hopeful future for people with cancer and the people who support them. And you can help us make that happen.


Write to your local candidates

Make your voice heard by using our simple tool will to write to all your local candidates standing in this election and ask them: will you transform cancer care in the next Parliament? 


Join our campaign network

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing easy, simple steps you can take to make cancer care a priority for the next government. Simply sign up to our short email updates today and you’ll be the first to hear how you can help.


Get election-ready 

Make sure you're registered to vote before the June 18 deadline. Register through the registered to vote to ensure your voice is heard on polling day.  


Stay informed and engaged 

Be the first to hear about new ways to get involved and stay up to date with opportunities to take action by keeping an eye on the General Election section of our website. Here you'll find our latest information about the election, including our weekly blog series and campaign updates. Together we can have a real impact for people living with cancer. 


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