New cancer cash has little impact on UK survivals
Britain’s state-run health service has failed to boost survival rates for cancer patients substantially, despite tripling investment in cancer care over the past decade.
A major study published on Friday found survival rates have improved only marginally since a national cancer plan was launched in England in 2000.
The disappointing outcome will raise fresh questions about whether Britain’s monopoly National Health Service—watched closely by governments around the world, including the new U.S. administration—has the right system to help cancer patients.
Britain has historically had one of the poorest levels of cancer survival in Europe and the new NHS cancer plan was designed to improve 5-year survival rates for cancer, so they would compare with the best in Europe by 2010.
“We are at best keeping track with improvements elsewhere rather than closing the gap,” said an editorial in the journal Lancet Oncology, which published the study.
It added that the plan’s 2010 target was now looking “optimistic”.
The study led by Michel Coleman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at cancer survival rates in England, using official statistics, and compared them with those in Wales, where a plan was not introduced until 2006.
They found one-year survival rates were slightly higher in England than in Wales by 2004-6, but there was very little difference in three-year survival patterns.
Karol Sikora, a critic of government cancer plans and medical director of independent group CancerPartnersUK, said the research showed structural problems in the bureaucracy of the NHS, including “serial delays, poor access and serious under-capacity”.
He added that access to new cancer drugs remained poor, with comparative data showing use of six cancer drugs approved in the past three years was five times less in Britain than the European Union average.
Moves by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence not to recommend some costly new drugs for use on the NHS have sparked a number of clashes with patient groups and drugmakers like Roche, the market leader in cancer.
By Ben Hirschler
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