Thousands of cancer patients dying unnecessarily

November 21, 2008 10:04 AM

The Telegraph report that Cancer Research UK have compared survival rates in the UK and other European countries and found that 6,500 lives could if levels in Britain matched the European average, 11,000 if rates here matched the best on the Continent.


There is no such thing as an uncontroversial healthcare statistic. You could argue that the fact that Britain detects cancers later means that surviving five years from diagnosis (the standard used to judge cancer survival) is more of an achievement in the UK. Equally, it takes a while for the data to come through and it is possible things have improved since.


However, it is hard to account for the massive and enduring difference in survival rates between the UK and other developed countries. Particularly given that we spend more than many of the best performers.


The best explanation I've heard for why there is such a difference is that cancer care asks a lot of a health service's ability to deliver a range of services quickly. Waits for treatment, and between different stages of treatment, make a big difference. Cancer is a good test of a healthcare system's ability to function promptly and effectively. The NHS fails that test. We studied healthcare performance and the mortality record across a range of conditions in a report at the beginning of this year, Wasting Lives, and came to similar conclusions - the NHS is a long way behind the healthcare systems of peer nations and extra money hasn't seen us catch up any faster.


If we want to see improved healthcare we need a system that is less monopolistic, suffers less interference from politicians and is less centralised.  That way we can save lives and deliver value for taxpayers' money.

The Telegraph report that Cancer Research UK have compared survival rates in the UK and other European countries and found that 6,500 lives could if levels in Britain matched the European average, 11,000 if rates here matched the best on the Continent.


There is no such thing as an uncontroversial healthcare statistic. You could argue that the fact that Britain detects cancers later means that surviving five years from diagnosis (the standard used to judge cancer survival) is more of an achievement in the UK. Equally, it takes a while for the data to come through and it is possible things have improved since.


However, it is hard to account for the massive and enduring difference in survival rates between the UK and other developed countries. Particularly given that we spend more than many of the best performers.


The best explanation I've heard for why there is such a difference is that cancer care asks a lot of a health service's ability to deliver a range of services quickly. Waits for treatment, and between different stages of treatment, make a big difference. Cancer is a good test of a healthcare system's ability to function promptly and effectively. The NHS fails that test. We studied healthcare performance and the mortality record across a range of conditions in a report at the beginning of this year, Wasting Lives, and came to similar conclusions - the NHS is a long way behind the healthcare systems of peer nations and extra money hasn't seen us catch up any faster.


If we want to see improved healthcare we need a system that is less monopolistic, suffers less interference from politicians and is less centralised.  That way we can save lives and deliver value for taxpayers' money.

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