From 5-7 July, Alopecia UK had a charity stand at the British Association of Dermatologists’ (BAD) 102nd annual meeting. Prior to hiatus in face-to-face events due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Alopecia UK was a regular attendee at conferences, raising awareness of the psychological impact of alopecia and explaining to medical professionals how the charity can help their patients. This year, we were keen to get back to that and talk about the recently published Charter for Best Practice for NHS Wig Provision, to encourage dermatologists to ensure appropriate wig provision policies are in place within their Trusts.

Alopecia UK’s representatives at the meeting, held at the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC) in Glasgow, were charity CEO Sue Schilling and Operations Manager Amy Johnson. It was Sue’s first-time representing Alopecia UK at a such a big event, and it provided her with a brilliant opportunity to meet not only dermatologists but also network with contacts from pharmaceutical companies and get to know the leaders of other Patient Support Groups who were in attendance. For Amy who is a bit of a veteran at medical conferences, attending her first in 2013, it was a great for her to be back doing what she does best – championing the work for alopecia and getting dermatologists to understand the power of peer support. 

We received lots of compliments about the eye-catching posters on our stand, which did a great job of drawing people in. Not only did we have HUGE posters all about our Charter for Best Practice for NHS Wig provision, we also had our colourful posters which included words from our Facebook Group members who were asked to explain in one word how they felt when first diagnosed with alopecia and what being part of Alopecia UK means to them. Many commented on how powerful these posters are, and we agree! (Thanks to volunteer Rob Newman for providing his design skills to help us create these).

The conversations about NHS Wig Provision were varied, as we imagined they would be. Some dermatologists told us of good wig provision policies, others told us they were not sure what their NHS Trust offered in terms of wigs and, sadly, some explained that wig provision had been stopped altogether.

It was great to catch up with ex-Alopecia UK Trustee Jackie Tomlinson, who was at the BAD event as a delegate. Jackie is now a dermatology nurse and she was the one who was instrumental in Alopecia UK building the links with medical organisations that we maintain today.

During our three days on the charity stand, we had conversations with more than 130 delegates. There will also have been many more attendees who either picked up some information from our stand or simply spotted our name, hopefully recalling it in future interactions with their patients. Not only did we have the professional charity awareness conversations, we also had at least a dozen chats with people who were personally affected by alopecia; dermatologists with alopecia themselves, a pharmaceutical rep who is a parent of a child with alopecia, others with family members with alopecia. At any event where a large group of people gathers, there will be personal conversations about alopecia. It is always a reminder of just how many of us are affected.

Providing that peer support face to face was one of a few highlights for us. Another was a dermatologist coming to our stand and explaining that his NHS Trust had recently revised their wig policy because of the publication of our Charter for Best Practice. We also had a brilliant moment in the final hour of the conference when a consultant dermatologist, who also has an additional job role with NHS England, approached our stand with the idea of surveying members of the BAD to gain a current clear picture about what was happening across the UK. He discussed the idea of getting a medical student involved in the work, when at that moment a Dermatology Registrar walked over to our stand. She had attended a session on ‘Hair and Nails’ earlier in the day and was ‘inspired to get more involved’. As a result, the two doctors engaged in deep conversation and went away with a plan to work on this wig provision survey together; all from an encounter at our stand!

The value of Alopecia UK attending events such as this should not be underestimated. Coming together with clinicians, other patient organisations and pharma industry representatives can be hugely valuable and we are delighted that our first face to face event after the pandemic has been so worthwhile. And the Tunnock's treats and Irn Bru were pretty good taste of Glasgow too! 

Whilst the BAD kindly provide patient organisations with free exhibition space at their events (thank you BAD!), as you might imagine there are additional costs associated with attending such as poster printing, travel and accommodation costs. If you would like to support Alopecia UK in its work to raise awareness with medical professionals, please consider starting a monthly donation today.