Britain rated poor for cancer survival rate

Jeremy Laurance@jeremylaurance
Monday 10 October 2011 08:03
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Britain's cancer record is the worst in the English-speaking world and waiting times for some treatments are growing longer, according to studies published yesterday.

Britain's cancer record is the worst in the English-speaking world and waiting times for some treatments are growing longer, according to studies published yesterday.

Death rates for five major cancers, including those of the breast, cervix and bowel, were higher in the UK than in Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, the Commonwealth Foundation study found.

Survival rates for breast cancer were more than 10 per cent below those in the US. In America, 86 per cent of women lived for at least five years after being diagnosed, compared with 75 per cent of British women. But the comparison was based on cancers diagnosed from 1991 to 1995 and the report says there is evidence rates have improved.

But a second survey by the Royal College of Radiographers found the wait for X-ray treatment following cancer surgery has lengthened since 1998. The average wait is five weeks; six years ago it was three. The college blamed a shortage of staff and equipment but the Government's cancer "tsar", Professor Mike Richards, said improvements in other areas of cancer care meant more patients were being sent for radiotherapy, which was creating a bottleneck. "We are doing everything we can to rectify this as quickly as possible," he said.

The comparative study, carried out by the foundation, a US charity, found that although Britons died sooner, they were less likely to commit suicide. Suicide rates in Britain were less than half those of New Zealand and more than 40 per cent below those in the other three countries.

The report also shows that Britons have the best access to health care. Patients in the UK reported "virtually no" financial barriers to obtaining medical care, diagnostic tests or prescriptions and the least difficulty in seeing a specialist.

The study began by considering more than 1,000 measures of quality, then a working party produced a list of the 40 that best reflected the performance of health systems across countries. They included cancer survival rates, heart attack survival rates, asthma deaths, suicides, vaccination rates, waiting times for treatment, and measures of doctor-patient communication.

One of the key findings is that no country can lay claim to the best health system, or be blamed for the worst. Each scored best on at least one indicator and worst on at least one other. All could learn from international experience, the report said.

Another problem area for the UK was the incidence of measles, the highest in the five countries at 4.5 cases per 100,000 population. Measles rates in the UK were more than twice as high as New Zealand and more than 100 times higher than in the US.

Doctors in the UK were also rated lowest for responsiveness. Although patients in all countries complained about poor communication, people in the UK were most likely to be concerned that their doctor did not seek their opinion or discuss the emotional burden of their illness.

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