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Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
MPs call for cancer institute
Cancer research
Cancer research is largely funded by charitable donation in the UK
The best way to tackle the UK's poor record on cancer is to set up a national institute to oversee and co-ordinate reform, say MPs.

They are calling for ministers to pump an extra 100m a year into cancer research, which they say has been chronically underfunded in the UK.

A world class research programme is essential if we are to reduce the burden of this disease

Dr Michael Clark, Science and Technology Committee

A report by the Commons' Science and Technology select committee paints a damming picture of cancer services in the UK, which has one of the worst records for treating the disease in the western world.

It says the current situation, in which cancer research in the UK is almost entirely dependent on charities, is unacceptable.

The report says new government funds are needed, and their use should be overseen by a central strategic authority.

At present, there are only two cancer research centres with significant government backing - the Hammersmith and the Royal Marsden hospitals.

The MPs say ministers should pump funds into another 10 units.

They are also calling for:

  • Attention to be focused on treatment times, not times to see a specialist
  • Challenging targets to cut time between GP referrals and start of treatment
  • More specialist cancer surgeons
  • Registering cancer to be a legal requirement
'Scourge of the human race'

Dr Michael Clark
Dr Michael Clark

Committee chairman and Tory MP Dr Michael Clark said: "Cancer has been a scourge of the human race since the earliest times and still represents one of the world's most common diseases.

"It kills one in four people in the UK. One in three will be diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives and incidence is going up.

"A world class research programme is essential if we are to reduce the burden of this disease."

The report was welcomed by the Cancer Research Campaign.

Director general Professor Gordon McVie said: "If the recommendations from the committee become reality, it would herald a new era of cancer treatments and cures.

If the recommendations from the committee become reality, it would herald a new era of cancer treatments and cures

Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign

"The committee has the vision to see that money must be invested in cancer research if we are to improve British patients' chances of survival."

Sir Paul Nurse, director general of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund welcomed the recognition that greater funding was needed for research.

He said: "Successive governments have abdicated their responsibility for cancer research to the cancer charities.

"In other countries governments fund twice as much as the cancer research charities, yet here in the UK it is the other way round."

The NHS Plan, unveiled on Thursday, promises a new NHS Cancer Research Network to be fully implemented by 2004.

Its aim will be to double the total proportion of adult cancer patients entering trials within three years.

The NHS Plan also includes plans to step up screening programmes for a number of the most common cancers.

The MPs on the select committee spent the past six months interviewing cancer specialists and patients.

They have visited the National Cancer Institutes in Washington DC and Finland.

In America, funding for the institute was established by law in 1971, and it now receives around 2 billion a year from the government, 5% more than it requested this year.

By contrast, Britain spends 200 million from all sources on cancer research.

The committee's report, A Fresh Start For Cancer, suggests the creation of a "virtual" National Cancer Institute, which will link all the smaller centres in Britain by computer.

This would avoid the estimated 400 million cost of building a centre, but will force the Government to improve funding and address the need for "more interaction" between cancer charities.

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See also:

19 Jun 00 | Health
Call for national cancer agency
13 Jul 00 | Health
Cancer drug 'cash crisis'
01 Jun 00 | Health
Cancer treatment 'impersonal'
24 May 00 | Health
Cancer surgeons shortage warning
27 Jul 00 | Health
MPs face up to cancer challenge
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