Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
UK public 'deceived over poor cancer care'
The UK has been urged to spend more on cancer drugs
The British public are being denied effective cancer drugs but think that they get the best cancer care in the EU, a pressure group of health workers has claimed.
CERT (The Campaign for Effective and Rational Treatment) claims that the NHS denies 47,000 cancer patients £170m of effective drugs each year because funding is not available.
But a survey carried out for the campaign found that seven out of ten people think the standard of cancer treatment in the UK is good.
Three out of ten thought that the UK generally had better standards of treatment than other countries.
In fact, according to a study by the European Journal of Cancer, Britain has one of the worst survival rates for bowel and breast cancer in the EU, and significantly lower than average survival rates across a range of cancers, for instance, lung, prostate and colorectal cancer.
For example, ovarian cancer patients stand less than a 30% chance of surviving for five years in the UK, compared with nearly 45% in Sweden.
Low spending levels
CERT claims that the poor survival rates are linked to low levels of spending on treatment.
It is calling for the NHS to spend another £170m each year on currently licensed cancer drugs which it claims are being denied to patients despite being proven to be effective.
It also wants the government to consider allocating a further £70m for emerging drugs expected to be proved effective.
Less than £1 per head of the population was spent on cytotoxic (cell-killing) drugs - such as those used in chemotherapy - to combat cancer in the UK in 1996.
Professor David Kerr, professor of clinical oncology at Birmingham University and a member of the CERT steering committee, said the UK was the "Cinderella of Europe" in the treatment of many cancers.
He said: "It is disgraceful that many who could benefit from the effective new drugs are being denied access because drug budgets are unrealistically low."
Professor Kerr said it would take less than £3 a year extra per head of the population to guarantee evey patient access to the most effective licensed drugs.
Survey reveals misconceptions
There was a belief that there was a north/south European divide over standards, with Sweden and Germany thought top for survival and Greece, Spain and Portugal thought bottom.
In reality, individual countries' performance varies greatly depending on the type of cancer. For example, while Scandinavian countries have high survival rates for ovarian cancer, Spain is a top performer for kidney and lung cancer.
The over 45s - the age group most likely to suffer from cancer - had the most realistic view of UK survival rates with only 11% thinking that the UK was best, compared to a quarter of under-25s.
Over 80% of Scots thought highly of UK standards, compared with less than half of Londoners.
CERT spokesman Hugh McKinney said: "One in three of us is going to be affected by cancer at some point, so it is in everyone's interest that the NHS should allocate a realistic budget for cancer drugs."
Professor Kerr said the results of the survey were "quite horrifying".
"A significant proportion of the the British public simply has no idea how much the UK is lagging behind many other parts of Europe."