Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have taken a look at the amounts spent on cancer care in the UK and have found that the Department of Health's picture of low cancer survival rates but low costs isn't quite accurate. The Department of Health's analysis apparently fails to include spending by cancer care charities like Marie Curie Cancer Care. OECD data suggests that the UK spends £143, compared to the £80 that the Department of Health claims.
While the Swedish researchers acknowledge that UK cancer spending "is a very muddy picture" where precise and reliable figures are hard to come by this is another nail in the coffin of the "spend more and the health service will work itself out" approach. The numbers released by the Karolinska Institute suggest that the UK spends 36 per cent more on cancer care than Germany. Despite that additional spending in the UK a German man diagnosed with cancer has a 25 per cent higher chance of surviving five years and a German woman a 26 per cent higher chance of surviving that long compared to UK patients.
Professor Karol Sikora, advisor to the World Health Organisation who uncovered these figures, offers some recommendations on how to improve the situation:
"I think we should involve the independent sector and get systems that are more efficient and we should be looking at how things are done in America and Europe - there are simply no waiting lists there.
People in Europe cannot understand waiting for cancer treatment.
That is one thing that bedevils healthcare in the UK. No-one waits 31 days for radiotherapy in Europe yet that is our new target here. Most people currently wait much longer.
There is no reason why we can move from a target driven culture to a highly efficient system with no waiting lists with the money we are currently spending on cancer in the UK."
It is the uniquely centralised, politicised and monopolistic fashion in which healthcare is organised in the UK which leaves so many paying such a tragically high price for poor healthcare performance. As Professor Sikora says we can learn lessons from other nations in Europe who do things differently.