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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 01:05 GMT
Doctors warn of cancer 'failings'
Patient undergoing a scan
Cancer charities say the private sector may not be the solution
Cancer patients are being failed by the NHS, a group of specialists has warned.

Reform, a think-tank of almost 1,000 doctors, says 2bn invested in NHS cancer services in the past five years has not provided good value for money.

Cancer care is being stifled by overwhelming bureaucracy at the expense of front-line services, including X-rays and radiotherapy, Reform says.

But Health Secretary John Reid said "thousands" of patients were alive today thanks to government investment.

'Lives lost'

Reform Director Andrew Haldenby said a "lack of co-ordination" in health care resulted in cancer patients living in poor health for long periods of time.

The group says the gap between diagnosis and treatment of cancer is growing and costing people their lives.

"A study in Glasgow showed a fifth of lung cancer patients became unsuitable for treatment during their wait for radiotherapy, therefore lives are being lost," said Mr Haldenby.

Dr John Reid
We have made good progress
Dr John Reid
Health Secretary

Professor Karol Sikora, co-author of Reform report Cancer Care in the NHS, said resources were not being directed to where they are most needed.

The public sector model was "doomed" and more treatment should be contracted out to external companies.

But Dr Reid said the mortality rate from cancer had dropped by 12% in the past six years.

He said the government had provided 1,182 extra cancer consultants, 1,100 new pieces of equipment and 600,000 extra MRI scans.

He said the NHS had made good progress with 99% of people with suspected cancer now seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Cancer Research UK head of clinical programmes, Dr Richard Sullivan, said cancer was "an individual disease, not like anything else".

"To get high outcomes in terms of survival, reducing disability and quality of life, you have to have lots of arms of healthcare services working together," he added.

Antonia Bunnin, of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the government two week target referred only to patients who were referred as urgent cases by their GP.

She said many patients who were not picked up in this way still had to wait for a longer time.

"Whilst we have seen improvements in the frontline treatment of breast cancer since the NHS plan was introduced, patients are still waiting far longer than they should to be diagnosed and treated.

"Our own research confirms that many women are literally left in the dark over their diagnosis - with waits of up to 17 weeks.

"In addition, many women have to wait up to 16 weeks for their radiotherapy.

"This is clearly not good enough."



SEE ALSO:
Reid takes up 'cancer bill' claim
25 Jan 05 |  Lancashire
NHS waits are Lib Dem 'priority'
20 Jan 05 |  Politics


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