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A day in the life of...Dr Martin English, Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital

Press Release   •   Feb 12, 2013 14:55 GMT

Every day at Birmingham Children’s Hospital there are more than 3,000 staff making sure that we run a first-class facility for our children, young people and their families. Here we look at one of these staff roles and how important it is in the day-to-day running of the hospital.

Today we are speaking to Dr Martin English who is a leading consultant paediatrician on our cancer ward. Martin first joined the hospital 18 years ago as a junior doctor and then rejoined us in 2002 as a senior consultant paediatrician. During that time a lot has changed but Martin still sees the potential for future improvements. 

What does your role involve?

My job is to treat cancer patients and to coordinate their care pathway. This means that as well as treating patients, administering chemotherapy and working closely with the radiotherapy and surgical teams, my job is to also ensure that every one of our patients receives the best possible care from the moment they are diagnosed. For example, it is my duty to look after the children having treatment on the ward as well as ensuring that patients who have gone home, and no longer need treatment, are still provided for. This may mean liaising with other NHS Trusts to ensure the patient has checkups as an adult outpatient or ensuring that a child is integrated back into normal paediatric care and education. At the moment I am responsible for the medical management of around 8% of children with brain tumours in the UK.

How do you decide what treatment a child needs?

The cancer treatment that a child receives will depend on a number of factors. One of the main things we consider when deciding how to treat a cancer patient is how to balance the positive effect the treatment will have on the cancer, with the negative side effects that treatment could cause to the patient. We want every one of our patients to go on to have the happiest and healthiest life possible, so achieving that balance is very important.

What’s the best part of your job?

Delivering the news that the cancer has not come back to a worried patient and family is undoubtedly the best part of my job. When I tell patients and parents that they no longer have anything to worry about the sense of relief in the room is overwhelming.

What’s the most difficult part of job?

Giving families and patients bad news. It goes without saying that telling a parent that their child’s cancer is incurable is a horrible experience. It is also really difficult to explain to the child or young person what is happening and why they will no longer be having treatment.  On these occasions I know that it is 100 times harder to be receiving the news than giving it and I do everything I can to support the patients and families as much as is possible. 

Why is the Children’s Cancer Centre Appeal so important?

The Children’s Cancer Centre appeal is vital and I can’t stress that enough.

We have only been able to treat significant numbers of children with cancer for 50 years of the 150 years that Birmingham Children’s Hospital has been here. The advances that are happening every day in the treatment of cancer means that we urgently need new equipment and resources to care for our children and young people.

The resources available for the treatment of cancer are making staggering advancements and we need to keep making progress. When I first qualified in 1986 the hospital I worked in had no MRI or CT scanner. Today at Birmingham Children’s Hospital we have three MRI scanners and a CT scanner. This equipment is fundamentally important to the care our patients receive and makes a tangible difference. In the 1980’s only 50% of children would survive five years after the diagnosis of cancer. Now only 30 years on, 80% of children will survive at least five years after their diagnosis.

The way we treat cancer patients is changing again and we are now curing children that wouldn’t have survived 10 years ago. It is so important that we keep treating more and more children and to do that we need more beds, space and equipment due to the ever increasing numbers of patients. We also need to make this environment as pleasant and welcoming for our patients as possible.

Where feasible we now try to treat children and young people with cancer as outpatients instead of inpatients. This makes it easier for our children and young people and their families to cope, and means that we can treat more patients. However, treating more children as outpatients requires us to have higher numbers of patients on our cancer day care ward at any time which means we now need more space and equipment to administer treatment. If we reach the £4m target of the Children’s Cancer Centre Appeal we will be able to ensure that we keep making progress to help the thousands of children and young people we treat for cancer. 

To find out how you can support our Children’s Cancer Centre Appeal please visit:


Comments (3)

    Dr English is amaaaaaaaaaaaaaazing :o)))

    - Tracey - Feb 15, 2013 17:28 GMT

    Wonderful man who has provided great support for my Daughter who has a brain tumour. Although not cancerous he still continues to monitor her on a 2- 3 monthly basis, great support-Thank you

    - Samantha Mullins - Mar 15, 2013 21:26 GMT

    Dr English looked after me 13 years ago when he worked as a consultant in Cardiff. There's not a day even now that goes by when I don't thank God for him; his commitment; his expert knowledge and his wonderful manner. On behalf of myself and all of your patients; thank you for being the doctor you are.

    - James - Apr 06, 2013 12:33 BST

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