£200m cancer fund 'will do nothing'

The Government's £200m cancer drugs fund will not significantly improve survival rates from the disease, according to Britain's cancer tsar.

New drugs cost tens of thousands of pounds per patient but have little impact in extending life, Professor Sir Mike Richards, the national cancer director, said.

He was responding to research published in The Lancet showing that thousands of patients are dying prematurely in the UK compared with comparable countries. An analysis of results for 2.4m cancer patients treated in six countries up to 2007 showed the UK performs worse than Australia, Canada and Sweden. The main reasons were poor awareness of symptoms and late diagnosis by GPs, Professor Richards said. A £10m campaign to increase public awareness of cancer symptonms is to be launched in January.

Many cancer drugs are more widely available in Europe than the UK, where their NHS use has been restricted by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, leading some doctors and patients groups to blame NICE for Britain’s poor survival record.

Professor Richards said: “It is extremely unlikely any issue of access to drugs makes any difference to these survival differences. Drugs have a very modest impact on survival, prolonging it by three months or so.”

Professor Richards was earlier quoted at a conference in November saying: “If you wanted to sufficiently change outcomes from cancer I would not spend £200m on expensive cancer drugs; I would spend it on earlier diagnosis and involving GPs".

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