Leading article: So much for a national health service

Share

Cancer is the most feared affliction in Britain, and has now overtaken heart disease as the country's biggest killer. It is odd, then, that standards of care received by cancer sufferers in Britain are so low. The survival rate is poor compared with our European neighbours. And six years after the Government launched its national cancer plan, a third of English regions still lack comprehensive plans for cancer services.

It would be wrong to claim that no progress has been made. But, as today's House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report reveals, we still have unacceptable regional discrepancies when it comes to cancer treatment. The highest survival rates are in the South and the highest mortality rates are in the most deprived areas of the country. But this is not a simple North/South divide. And the variation is not just in survival rates. There are sharp regional variations in the availability of drugs such as Herceptin, something illustrated recently by the case of Barbara Clarke, a former nurse who was forced to kick up an almighty fuss before her NHS trust agreed that she, like other women in her position around the country, ought to be given the drug. Today's report spells this out. In some areas, 90 per cent of eligible women are receiving Herceptin for breast cancer, but in others the figure is just 10 per cent.

It is important to grasp the historical reasons for this. Inequalities have grown up over time as the NHS has developed. The quality of care available in a region is often dependent on how persuasive local specialists have been in requesting resources from the Department of Health in the past. The result is that, in the worst areas, there are only four oncologists per million people, compared to 20 per million in London. Is it any wonder Londoners have more chance of surviving cancer?

Yet this variation in the quality of treatment is an affront to the principles of our national health service. Whether it is in the speediness of detection, access to the best drugs, or the quality of palliative care, everyone has a right to an equal standard of treatment. And this must be the case whether they live in Newquay or Newcastle. We need a full review by the Department of Health of the progress that has been made towards each target set out in the original NHS cancer plan. Then we will see why some areas are continuing to offer an unacceptable standard of treatment.

The Government must beware. It is much easier to sort out inequalities of this nature when NHS resources are growing. It will be much harder when investment falls back, as it is projected to in two years' time. Once again, we find that the Government is running out of the time it needs to deliver on its promises.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Management Support Assistant

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Railway Museum, the largest of its ...

Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

£250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

£40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Ukip on the ropes? Voters don’t think so

Stefano Hatfield
'One minute he cares desperately about his precious things, the next he can’t remember them'  

I repeat things over and over in the hope they’ll stay with him

Rebecca Armstrong
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project