Dying cancer patients 'refused therapy'

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

Dying patients in urgent need of pain-relieving radiotherapy treatment can expect only "second-rate" care from the National Health Service unless the Government commits extra funds to cancer services, a leading specialist warned yesterday.

Dr Victor Varley, clinical director at the Bristol Oncology Centre where 20 patients a month are likely to be refused radiotherapy because the hospital has run out of money, said that other centres across the country were also being forced to "prioritise" cancer patients.

Those with curable conditions received radiotherapy, while scores of terminally ill patients were being prescribed painkilling drugs instead, he said. "A single radiotherapy treatment to a painful bone can bring relief for several months. To achieve the same effect with drugs requires large doses which make the patient drowsy and affect quality of life," he said last night.

The crisis in Bristol follows a decision by the United Bristol Healthcare Trust to close one of the five radiotherapy machines at the oncology centre to save money. A spokeswoman for the trust said the centre faced a pounds 500,000 overspend to the end of this financial year.

Professor Charles Coombes, director of the Cancer Research Campaign's laboratories at the Hammersmith Trust, west London, said that there were more cancer patients because of an ageing population. More of the cancer budget is consumed by chemotherapy which has improved survival rates in recent years, he said. This leaves less money for radiotherapy but more patients who need curative radiotherapy. Dying patients in need of palliative care are suffering as a result.

"Unless this Government is prepared to ... allocate a larger proportion of NHS resources to cancer care, Britain will continue to have the poorest survival rates in the world," he said.