Bernadette Mortiboy - The Mouse That Roared!

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

Our latest guest blog is by Bernadette Mortiboy, a technical superintendent at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital Radiotherapy Department. To mark the end of the radiotherapy petition, Bernadette shares the story of how, with a little gentle encouragement, word of the petition quickly spread throughout Shropshire.

Sleepy little Shropshire is the not the first place you would think of as having a loud voice in radiotherapy, but why shouldn't we shout loud? We are a small but fabulous department and are proud of the service we offer our patients.

The national petition for radiotherapy asking for an increased share of the cancer fund, from 5% to 6.5% plus a one-off payment of £250 million, was launched in July. By November, it was clear that, although we had all dutifully signed the petition to raise awareness of radiotherapy, we hadn't really done enough. The total number of signatories in our local area was 62, and the total around the country was 7,891. Something had to be done.

So, we started to engage our patients. We created posters featuring our own Truebeam® linear accelerator, flyers explaining the motivation behind the petition and business-card sized notes with the Action Radiotherapy web address and the words ‘sign the petition’: nice and simple.

My first foray into the waiting room seemed to go well, so I kept doing it. I explained we were looking for support to raise awareness in parliament about the lack of funding for radiotherapy. The patients dutifully signed the petition, but it still wasn't enough, so I kept going back to update them on the rising numbers. I told them stories every day of who I had persuaded to sign: my lifeguards, friends, family, just about everybody who attended a careers event I went to, every visitor to the department, all my husband’s work colleagues, and so it went on.

The patients enthusiastically got on board and started sharing stories in the waiting room about who they had convinced to sign the petition too. There are parts of Shropshire and mid-Wales where signing the petition was almost obligatory! People couldn’t go to the vets, OAP social clubs, U3A groups or Christmas parties without being asked to sign. It was fabulous to watch the signatures going up.

The patients wanted our area to shine so much that they were apologetic their families were from all over the country, so were not really helping our local numbers grow. Nevertheless, I watched, amazed, as the numbers around the country began to rise too. Then someone put me in contact with a local journalist – so useful. I sent Mat a short piece about what we were trying to do and he published it in The Shropshire Star. The number of signatures became a flood: first Shrewsbury and Atcham turned orange on the petition map, then the Wrekin. We had over 100 signatures in two of our parliamentary constituencies!

When the petition reached 10,000 signatures in the new year, there was jubilation among the staff and patients: we really felt we had succeeded. Our lovely journalist friend had clearly been following the progress and asked me for a follow-up on how it felt to have got to 10,000 signatures. I said I felt like the mouse that roared. Shrewsbury and Atcham are second only to Tim Farron’s constituency and the Wrekin is not far behind. But all our parliamentary wards are doing well: little Shropshire and mid-Wales have found over 500 people who care enough to sign the petition and that is just locally: between us we have contacts around the country who have signed up too.

The radiotherapy team at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

The weeks between the end of November and the 10,000 mark were a lot of fun. The patients were eager for updates: I plastered graphs and celebratory posters throughout the department, and commandeered a noticeboard, covering it with updates and a map of the country with us in orange. There was a buzz about the place, lots of laughter and some very cheeky people! But they were all very supportive: as I wrote in the local paper, at a time when our patients need our support the most they have been amazingly supportive of us, and for that I am very grateful.

The petition has now ended with a total of 10,610 signatures! It feels so good to know that with the help of our local Shropshire patients, we contributed to this vital campaign.