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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 23:53 GMT
NHS cancer plan is 'ineffective'
Breast tumour
Deaths from breast cancers were looked at in the report
Rates of avoidable deaths from cancer in England and Wales are not falling as fast as the NHS Cancer Plan predicts, a report warns.

Between 1999 and 2005 the decline in deaths from cancer which should have been treatable slowed year on year, analysis by think-tank Civitas shows.

The figures suggest the 2bn injection in funding in cancer services is not having an impact, they concluded.

But experts said it was too soon to see the effects of extra spending.

The report looked at deaths from certain conditions that should not occur if effective health care is available and the cancers are caught early.

Much of the new money simply got us back to where we should have been
Professor Martin McKee, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

For cancer this includes bowel, skin, breast, cervix, testicles and Hodgkin's disease and leukaemia.

The report found that between 1999 and 2005, avoidable deaths from these cancers fell by 15% and avoidable deaths from heart disease fell by 34% - figures which are generally in line with the rest of Europe.

"Treatable"

But they found some "concerning" trends in cancer deaths.

The five-year period 1999-2004 was the only period since 1979 in which the rate of decrease in avoidable cancer deaths has been less than in the previous one.

And the cancer mortality rate in England and Wales was still higher at 25.5 per 100,000 population in 2004 - than European countries such as France, Austria, Sweden and Finland.

Graph showing falling rates of cancer death

Report author, James Gubb, director of the Civitas Health Unit, said the trend was particularly alarming given the intense focus and extra funding cancer care has received since the introduction of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000.

"It's impact has apparently been negligible at best."

He said the additional funding may not have been spent in the right places.

"Some of the money was probably used to update equipment which was outdated but staff increases have come in the wrong areas so we have new diagnostic equipment sat in boxes."

Professor Martin McKee, an expert in European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the assessment of the changes in cancer deaths that had happened in recent years was an accurate representation.

But he added: "In terms of attributing findings to changes in expenditure, it's far too soon to say.

"It's going to take time, especially with cancer."

"Much of the new money simply got us back to where we should have been."

Richard Davidson, director of policy and public affairs at Cancer Research UK, said the report was only a snapshot of seven of 200 forms of cancer.

"The latest research shows that UK cancer mortality rates have fallen by 12% over the last decade so it would be misleading to suggest that the Cancer Plan has been ineffective.

"Cancer mortality is falling and survival is increasing but there is still work to do."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the NHS Cancer Plan had delivered huge improvements in treatment.

"Between 1996 and 2005 cancer mortality in people under 75 fell by over 17%, which means over 60,000 lives saved over this period.

"Our target is to achieve at least a 20% reduction in cancer deaths in under 75s by 2010, and we are on target to meet this."

The government's Cancer Reform Strategy is due by the end of the year.



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