Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
PM's cancer drive 'depends on cash'
The group will discuss improved cancer screening
Prime Minister Tony Blair's drive to improve cancer treatment in the UK will fail unless substantial resources are made available, experts have warned.
The UK has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe. Currently, 69,000 people die of cancer in the UK each year.
The prime minister announced an action plan at a top level meeting with cancer experts, health ministers and the Chief Medical Officer on Thursday.
Mr Blair also promised to consider any other proposals put forward during the meeting.
In addition, part of the extra £21bn the government pledged to the NHS over the next three years will be used to plan for an extra 400 cancer specialists and up to 15,000 extra nurses, as well as increased spending on cancer drugs.
Experts want investment
He said: "The big surprise is the commitment to provide 400 new cancer specialists over the next five years and a big chunk of money for anti-cancer drugs.
"My only niggling doubt is the time scale. The public quite rightly wants action now. People are needlessly being denied best treatments and best practice."
More nurses, psycho-social care and better counselling were needed in addition to drugs, doctors and equipment.
It was announced in 1998 that cancer had overtaken heart disease as the main killer of Britons.
Cancer remains the second-biggest killer in western countries, after heart disease, accounting for 20 to 25% of all deaths.
Lung cancer is the most common tumour in Britain and the United States and is the hardest to treat.
The government has already pledged to give £60m to reducing deaths from breast, bowel and lung cancer.
The money will be used to improve quality of treatment and access to services and to reduce waiting times.
A further £150m will also be made available over the next three years from the National Lottery New Opportunities Fund.
Behind the rest of Europe
As a result there were not enough specialists, enough radiotherapy equipment and the amount spent on drugs in the UK was much lower than in many other countries - about a quarter of that in the US.
He said: "We have the technology, we have the expertise, you can get the best care in the world in Britain, but you can also get some rather poor quality care.
"If we had better organisation, more resources and above all better quality control so that we could achieve the best for everybody then we could get the sort of figures Mr Blair is talking about."
'Prevention better than cure'
But Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said money might be better spent on prevention rather than treatment.
"The trouble with treating people with hugely expensive drugs is that the money is much better spent on extremely cost-effective drugs like nicotine replacement therapy, which gets people off smoking and has enormous benefits in the long term," he said.
"I hope they don't take the expensive treatment route instead of the inexpensive and cost-effective route of prevention."