A group of people hiking up a hill. Their backs are to the camera. It is a bright and sunny day.

Macmillan's metamorphosis

Published: 08 April 2024
Macmillan’s Chief Executive Gemma Peters reflects on the start of Macmillan’s year of transformation and the opportunity for the organisation to become better, more efficient and more impactful.
Gemma Peters, Chief Executive Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support. Standing outside and smiling, wearing a green top.

Gemma Peters Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Macmillan

A challenging start to the year

On my cycle to the office this morning I was enjoying the blossom on the trees and was struck that we are already a quarter of the way through the year. Time seems to pass quickly since I joined Macmillan, the learning curve is steep and so days and weeks zoom by. The last few months have not been easy, but the arrival of spring reflects a renewed energy and positivity I feel.

The first part of 2024 has presented its share of challenges for us as an organisation. We embarked on a year of transformation to ensure we are better equipped to deal with the unprecedented challenges facing people living with cancer. 

We need to be confident we can withstand a tough economic climate and still be there providing the support so badly needed by people with cancer. That means for the time being we need to be a smaller organisation and we've had to bid farewell to some exceptional colleagues, a harsh reality that weighs heavily. I am grateful to each of them for their dedication to Macmillan’s work, any organisation that recruits them next will be very lucky indeed.

The price – and promise – of transformation

Transformation isn’t for the faint hearted. It is easy to say and very hard to do. It requires determination and stamina, and most of all a compelling reason for change. I feel lucky that colleagues have always been focused on the needs of people with cancer above those of the organisation and although change is not easy, it also brings great opportunity. The opportunity to be better, more efficient and more impactful.  

For over a century, Macmillan has been dedicated to the pursuit of progress and excellence in cancer. Long before the NHS existed, we stood by those affected, and the generosity of our supporters has brought immeasurable improvements to countless lives. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult for us to have the impact we aspire to. 

Challenges within the health and social care system, the strain of the cost-of-living crisis, and the impact of the Covid pandemic have compounded difficulties faced by people affected by cancer. The rate of progress in cancer survival is slowing, huge gaps in experience and outcome are opening, and quality of life for many remains uncertain.

So 2024 is Macmillan’s year of metamorphosis. 

Renewed energy and hope

The work being done through our open strategy process is incredibly energising and inspiring, and there is much to be excited and hopeful about.

In the last couple of weeks alone I have had brilliant conversations with a broad range of the people that we work with and for, that have reinforced that we’re on the right track. Almost all of these people love Macmillan and want us to be stronger in the future. Everyone understands the choices are tough but knows that focussing on a smaller number of things - and delivering them brilliantly - is the right way for us to transform for people with cancer.

In a roundtable with heath system leaders last week, I heard gratitude about the work that Macmillan has done to support innovation in cancer care - our work in developing the targeted lung health check was used as a particularly inspiring example - alongside pleas that we do more to support teams to implement innovations. 

In a conversation with a community leader in Manchester, I heard how much she has valued Macmillan’s financial support and the opportunities to connect with other community leaders, but that she thinks we don’t tell people about this work enough and that we are too complicated in how we interact with people. Similarly, the leader of a smaller cancer charity told me that she was not clear what Macmillan’s priorities are and that this makes it hard to work out how to partner with us.

When talking to someone who has volunteered with Macmillan for more than 40 years, she told me that she was pleased we were reducing the size of the organisation. She felt it was obvious that we had become too large and that we could work in a much simpler way. Meanwhile a person with cancer, who is involved with many different cancer charities as an expert with lived experience, told me that he has noticed a big shift in Macmillan recently in terms of how we involve and respect the input of people with cancer in true co-design work. “About time,” he said, “now put your foot on the gas.” 

Through these conversations I feel the real hope there is for a better cancer experience. 


Embracing the winds of change

Ensuring those living with cancer have the best experience possible through our services and support remains our absolute priority and we will continue to put everyone that needs us at the heart of all we do. 

Our transformation will mean we are more efficient, so every pound raised makes greater impact for people with cancer. It will mean our cancer care is equitable, responsive and person-centred, and it will mean we are able to provide the support people need for many more years to come. 

Every day, especially the tough ones, our vision of a more dynamic, innovative, and impactful Macmillan comes closer. So I’ll be embracing the winds of change this spring, filled with confidence for what lies ahead, not just in 2024, but for the enduring legacy of Macmillan in the years to come.