Get A-Head looks ahead to next 30 years

A specialist charity which supports people with head and neck diseases, especially cancer, to live better lives is gearing up for a year of celebrations to mark its 30th anniversary.

The Get A-Head Charitable Trust was formed in the Midlands in 1994 by John Watkinson – one of the UK’s leading ear, nose and throat surgeons.

Trust Chair Tom Bromwich, who got involved in the early days after his twin brother was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, said Get A-Head had built on John’s vision over the past 30 years.

He said: “John knew that to generate the level of donations needed to make a real difference he would need high profile support, and he got Get A-Head off the ground with help from the late Roy Castle, who he had treated, performer Harry Secombe, National Hunt jockey Peter Scudamore, TV doctor Hilary Jones and the players of Warwickshire Cricket Club, as well as fellow ENT specialist Adrian Drake-Lee.

“That profile has certainly helped, as Get A-Head has raised more than £10 million in the past 30 years and gone beyond its original scope of supporting people in the West Midlands with head and neck conditions.

“We now answer requests for help from individuals, researchers and treatment centres across the UK, funding life-changing equipment that isn’t available on the NHS, research into the causes and treatment of head and neck conditions, particularly cancer, continuing education for healthcare professionals and complementary therapies to help improve the lives of patients.

“I’m immensely proud of what has been achieved by Get A-Head so far and I am looking forward to a momentous anniversary year and beyond.”

One of the major fundraisers in 2024 will see a team of intrepid athletes rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to raise funds for Get A-Head and Meningitis Now. The team includes farmer Rod Adlington, whose three-year-old son Barney died of meningitis within 24 hours of being diagnosed, fellow Midlands farmer Guy Minshall, Army paratrooper Alex Perry and Anna Williams, a vet from Lancashire, for the cross-Atlantic row from Lanzarote to Antigua.

The team, who set off earlier this month (January) are expected to take six weeks to cross the ocean before landing in Antigua.

Tom added: “The Brightsides team are amazing. Their training has gone very well and we sent them off with our very best wishes for their journey. They aim to raise £250,000, which will make such a difference to the projects we support, as well as to the work of Meningitis Now.

“We look forward to welcoming them home, as well as to the other events we have planned for our anniversary year, including a clay shoot in June, a race day in May, and a celebratory ball in November at the Birmingham Metropole.

“With other events still to be added to the calendar, we are looking forward to a busy year.

“John’s original vision was to provide the equipment and services that would improve the lives of patients, and that hasn’t changed.

“Head and neck cancers, in particular, are amongst some of the worst-funded when it comes to research, which is something we are determined to improve. I and my three children have all had our thyroid removed, for example, after we were found to have a genetic risk of developing the same cancer suffered by my brother.

“That sort of preventative treatment only came about because of extensive research, and we need to do much more to find learn more about the causes – and prevention – of cancer and to find better and less debilitating treatments.”

Figures from Cancer Research UK suggest that between 46 and 88 per cent of head and neck cancers could be prevented – 64 per cent of laryngeal cancer cases in the UK, for example, can be directly attributed to smoking.

Other biological, lifestyle and environmental factors can also be involved in the 12,400 new head and neck cancer diagnoses and 4,143 deaths in the UK each year. Less than 60 per cent of people with head and neck cancers survive beyond 10 years.

Get A-Head was registered as a charity in 2007 and has so far funded research, equipment and education to the tune of £10 million.