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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor