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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Live Webcast - Cancer Care
Cancer graphic

 Click here to watch the webcast 56k


Cancer kills well over 130,000 people a year in the UK, and, although the number of those cured has risen sharply in recent years, in many types, we lag well behind some other European countries.

The government has pledged a massive revamp in the way that cancer is diagnosed and treated in this country.

It has promised to buy new scanners and radiotherapy machines, and to train up many new radiologists and cancer specialists to make sure patients receive the care they need as soon as possible.

However, as Labour begins its second term, there are still those who doubt whether the government can deliver on its pledges.

BBC News Online held a live webcast from the Global Cancer Conference in Brighton, a gathering of some of the leading experts in the fight against cancer around the world.

We put your questions to those involved in cancer care, including Professor Gordon McVie, who heads the Cancer Research Campaign, and Professor Mike Richards, the government's so-called Cancer Czar, whose job it is to make cancer services better in the UK.


Highlights of interview


Newshost:

We heard the previous speaker making the point that we know we are not as good as Europe at curing patients with common cancer. He says that either means that our treatments are less proficient or we are not diagnosing cancers and treating them fast enough. Where do you think the problem lies?


Professor Gordon McVie:

I think it is a speed issue. We have got bold initiatives from the Government, we have got a cancer plan but behind that there is an urgency required. Every day in this country 600 people are diagnosed with cancer. People don't seem to have gripped the enormity of the public health problem. Six hundred patients every day - that is through the weekend as well. That is an awful lot of people to be diagnosed to be consoled, to be told about what the consequences are and so on. It is a massive problem and we can't handle it with the resources that we have at the moment. We are short of 500 - 600 specialists and cancer nurses and we just don't have the equipment. Equip the team and I promise you they will deliver just as good services - if not better - than any other country in Europe.


Newshost:

So are you confident that it is just about resources or is it also about the way we organise ourselves?


Professor Gordon McVie:

Obviously in any bureaucracy - and you don't get much more of a bureaucracy than the National Health Service - I think the number of people employed is second to the Indian Railway. It is obvious that there needs to be slim-lining, fast-tracking within the National Health Service. But we have got the words - cancer is now killing more people in the UK than anything else. It is a priority, resources have to be put into it and somehow it has got to be made to be fast-tracked. I do believe that there is this will, certainly at ground level, in the clinics around the country, to deliver. We know we can deliver - in the Cancer Research campaign and other campaigns, we already deliver state of the art care - it is just that we can't handle 600 patients a day.


Newshost:

Over the last four days you have had a gathering here with the experts to hear the latest developments in the fight against the disease. What most impressed you and heartened you the most?


Professor Gordon McVie:

What has heartened me most is that we are in fact winning the battle in the developed countries - on both sides of the Atlantic. Death rates - the number of people dying of cancer is coming down.

What is seriously depressing is the prediction - which I have every reason to believe is true - that we are just shifting the problem onto the developing countries, particularly our tobacco problem which we are exporting to give profits for the shareholders in the UK and Europe and creating a monumental epidemic for the developing countries which have got just minimal resources.


Newshost:

Those statistics that you came up with a little earlier in the week about the problem in the developing world - they are pretty grim aren't they?


Professor Gordon McVie:

It is terrible. We are looking at doubling the number of patients with cancer - 70% of them are going to be in the developing countries with 5% of the total resources. So we need two kinds of strategy - one for the developed countries and the other for the developing countries. We should stop causing problems in the developed countries for the developing countries.


Newshost:

You mention tobacco - just before this conference started, we had the Queen's speech and a lot of disappointment that there wasn't a Bill to ban tobacco advertising. How much more difficult does that make your job - that the people that are gathered here are trying so hard to end cancer and yet what kind of message does that send them about the Government's emphasis on this?


Professor Gordon McVie:

I think it weakens the credibility of the message. We had heard the Government signing up to the message that advertising affects the likelihood of kids picking up cigarettes and becoming life-long addicts and then dying in their middle age of tobacco.

We have very good surveys of kids who say - it must be ok to smoke otherwise the Government wouldn't allow adverts. We were within a whisker in the last Parliament of getting the Bill through - the Tories filibustered it out in the House Lords. We expected the new Government, as soon as they got back in after the election, to have carried on where they left off which meant getting that advertising ban back on the rails again. I was quite disappointed.


Newshost:

So will you be lobbying hard with this over the next few months?


Professor Gordon McVie:

I would hope very much that if there is a gap in the legislation programme that the Department of Health will be allowed to put that in for legislation.

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