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Wednesday 26th June 2019

Cancer, the politics

7th February 2011

Professor Karol Sikora, Consultant Oncologist, Hammersmith Hospital and Medical Director, CancerPartnersUK, discusses the politics of cancer.


While the government document ‘Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer’ is a turgid read, it does make some sense.

It shows how, despite the amount of cash the last administration devoted to cancer, Britain is still at the bottom in Europe in terms of cure rates for common cancers.

Trite slogans will not solve the problem in these difficult financial times.

Emphasis on the earlier diagnosis of cancer seems a good approach when our comparative one-year survival rates are so low. Giving GPs the power to authorise scans and blood tests - because of their experience with patients - makes sense.

I do not understand what the ‘Big Society’ concept has to do with cancer but making patients customers is the key to getting decent care and competition will drive evolution.

There is no reference to providers for radiotherapy or chemotherapy services in the document but that is where efficiency gains can be found because some equipment is not used at its capacity.

The key lies in changing incentives for productivity.

It is a scandal that only 10% of NHS patients get access to IMRT and less than 2% to image guided radiotherapy while in the private sector it is 56% and 100% respectively.

Commissioning changes will impact on the allocation of cancer drugs, while another worrying feature is the high-jacking of both CancerResearchUK and Macmillan Fund into a direct NHS service role.

All countries are struggling to pay for decent cancer care but the UK still has some way to go before it can be said to be providing world class cancer care.


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