Bill Turnbull and the Rise of Patient Self-Advocacy 

An inspirational campaigner and a meaningful legacy

bill turnbull

The death this week of Bill Turnbull, popular TV and radio presenter, is a blow to all who knew him whether in person or through his media work. It is especially felt amongst those whose lives have been impacted by prostate cancer, as Bill was an active and inspirational campaigner for screening and early diagnosis, having been diagnosed himself in 2017.

Bill’s name will forever be connected to prostate cancer screening, as his celebrity allowed him to join with fellow celebrity Stephen Fry, also diagnosed with prostate cancer, to launch a public campaign for early screening in 2018. This campaign had a significant impact on men coming forward for PSA tests, so much that the media called it the Fry Turnbull effect.

The National Cancer Registration & Analysis Service investigated how the Fry Turnbull effect played out, and concluded:

  •  Our findings show a marked increase in the number of prostate cancers diagnosed from the time of Fry’s and Turnbull’s announcements of their own diagnoses.  
  • Celebrities publicising their cancer diagnoses may prove invaluable in influencing their peers (in this instance, similar age groups) to investigate whether they themselves could also be at risk.
  • Further research could investigate which other factors could have an effect on help-seeking behaviour.  

This shows how meaningful Bill Turnbull’s legacy is. Health care professionals often underestimate how people need motivation, inspiration and support when confronted by fear and uncertainty, which is what a prostate cancer diagnosis, or even the knowledge that one might be at risk of developing prostate cancer, invokes.

Whether that motivation comes from a colleague, a family member or a more remote source like a celebrity doesn’t matter – what matters is breaking through the fear, uncertainty and doubt, finding a voice and taking action.

It’s a deep commitment to this belief in shifting from victim to advocate that drives campaigners like Chris Lewis, Elvin Box and Tony Collier. In an era of constrained health services, self-advocacy is essential and the support these campaigners, and indeed celebrities like Bill Turnbull provide is essential to driving and sustaining self-advocacy for many.

Bill’s death has prompted a blizzard of news pieces about prostate cancer, reenforcing Bill’s message about getting a PSA test.

Have you been motivated or inspired by a celebrity or campaigner in seeking advice on prostate cancer? We’d love to hear from you.