A report commissioned by the Campaign for Effective and Rational Treatment estimated that 47,000 patients could benefit from an extra pounds 170m of government spending.
Despite a 5 per cent increase in five-year survival among cancer sufferers diagnosed between 1981 and 1989, the UK lags behind many European countries and the United States. The breast cancer survival rate is 82 per cent in the US and 64 per cent in Britain. For colon cancer the figures are 60 per cent against 35 per cent.
"We are nowhere near the top of the league where many cancers are concerned. Our survival rates are much lower than most European countries," said David Kerr, professor of clinical oncology at Birmingham University. "It's disgraceful that many who could benefit from the effective new drugs that have been approved by regulatory authorities in the 1990s are denied access because drug budgets are unrealistically low."
Treatment is dependent on where patients live, Professor Kerr said. "Postcode prescribing is an absurdity. There is a sense in which we need to renationalise the NHS to stop it being such a lottery. For many patients the choice is to pay privately, rely on health insurance, go abroad, or go without."
Dr Robert Glynne-Jones, a consultant clinical oncologist at Mount Vernon Hospital in Middlesex, said that he sees three or four patients a week whose cancer has returned. "There used to be no treatments available that would help them. But now there are and I find myself surreptitiously looking through their notes for their postcode to see if they have any chance of getting the new drugs," he said.
"Some days I'm ashamed to face my patients."Reuse content