UK cancer care is worse than Poland

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Indy Lifestyle Online

By Jo Dillon

By Jo Dillon

28 November 1999

Patients suffering from lung cancer in Britain are more likely to die from the disease than similar patients living in Poland, a new report has found.

A study of comparative survival rates across Europe reveals that lung cancer sufferers in the UK have just a 6.5 per cent chance of surviving for five years or more after diagnosis. In Poland the figure is 7.6 per cent and in France, at the top of the table, people have a 14 per cent chance of living.

The statistics, compiled by management consultant Chris Philp, will be published by the Conservative Bow Group. His research also shows that Britain has a lower proportion of radiotherapists for the population than Poland, fewer specialists for every incidence of cancer than any country in western Europe, and spends three times more on remedies for constipation than it does on treating cancer.

Health care in Britain is the "worst in Europe", the report argues, and if standards in the NHS were raised to match those in the best countries, 85,000 lives could be saved a year. The report says 230 people a day die "unnecessarily" in Britain - approaching the UK mortality rate in the Second World War.

The report, which devotes a chapter to cancer care, comes after Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, said fighting the killer disease would be a priority of the health service. Mr Milburn pledged to cut cancer deaths in the under-75s by 100,000 by 2010, and appointed Professor Mike Richards "cancer czar" to oversee the process and ensure the NHS did not fail patients.

But at a conference of oncologists earlier this month, senior doctors condemned the "third world" cancer services in the NHS, complained that just £170m a year was being made available to spend on drugs for cancer treatment, and warned of a general lack of funds, equipment and qualified staff.

The issue is to be investigated in the new year by the cross-party Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, but the new report will give little comfort to the Health Secretary or the cancer czar. It charts survival rates for British patients with lung cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer, revealing a "large gap" between the UK and prosperous European countries such as Holland, Sweden, France and Germany. Britain is "closer to Poland, Estonia and Slovakia", the report says.

The research also shows how far the NHS lags behind health services on the continent, especially when it comes to staffing levels and funding. The UK comes behind Norway, Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland and Spain with just 0.2 cancer specialists for every 100 new patients. The latest figures also show that the NHS spends just over £1 a head on anti-cancer drugs - a quarter of the amount spent in the United States, where the death rate is half that of the UK.

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