When, as part of their attempt to ‘sell’ their NHS reforms, David Cameron and Andrew Lansley announced that the NHS was failing cancer patients several of my allotment pals were deeply disturbed. Up to that point they had clung to the belief that if any organisation could save their nearest and dearest it was the NHS. Although we were still all opposed to the idea of applying massive reforms at the same time as imposing £20 billion cuts, we were shaken by the claim that our cancer services were the worst in the developed world.
When the controversy reached its heights, with virtually the whole of the medical profession warning of the extreme dangers of the Lansley plan for localised commissioning and the introduction of the private sector, it was apparent that the bill was seriously flawed. It was then that Cameron repeated his election claim that Britian had “a higher rate of cancer deaths than even Bulgaria”. Both he and Lansley repeatedly justified their draconian plan by emphasising that both survival and death rates from cancer are extremely poor by internatiuonal standards. Without doubt the seemingly honest announcement rattled many who were on the brink of supporting the huge campaign to save our health service.
We now learn that they lied. New research released yesterday has, not surprisingly, received little publicity in the right-wing newspapers for it shows that the NHS, far from being at the bottom of the cancer mortality league, is in fact “the international leader in tackling the disease”. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer covers extensive research by Prof Colin Pritchard, a health academic at Bournemouth University and Dr Tamas Hickish, a consultant medical oncologist at Poole and Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch hospitals. The authors studied cancer mortality and the amount of GPT spent on healthcare between 1979 and 2007 in England and Wales and nine other countries including Germany, the USA, Spain, Japan and France.
In a statement Pritchard said yesterday that the research shows that the ministers have “misrepresented the NHS’s record on cancer in order to gain support for their unpopular shakeup”. In fact England and Wales saw the biggest drop in mortality among males aged 15-74 – down 31%. While six countries saw falls of at least 20%, England and Wales – which in 1979-81 had the third highest rate with 4,156 deaths per million men – improved the most, achieving by 2004-06 2869 deaths per million. Among men aged 52-64 and 65-74, who are more likely to get cancer, mortality dropped by 35% and 28%.
While mortality among women the same age declined by less, at 19%, that was the third biggest improvement after Japn (23%) and Germany (20%).
The research goes on to show just how good England and Wales are on cancer care, relative to spend. It makes clear that; “We do significantly more with proportionately less funding. It means that 34,484 people are alive today who wouldn’t have been if things had not improved since 1980″. The reference to funding reminds us that the percentage of GDP spent on the NHS is significantly lower that that of most of the other countries covered by the research. It specifically mentions that, in monetary terms, the NHS is “vastly superior to the private healthcare system of the USA”.
The authors of the report rightly point out that we must always strive for further improvement. Our mortality rates may be amongst the best in the world but every death is one too many. The tragedy is that the result of what one leading clinician has called a totally unintelligible bill will undoubtedly be to reverse the improvements that have occurred.
As Pritchard himself remarks, Cameron and Lansley are happier with NHS ‘bad news’ stories, rather than “celebrating the considerable achievements in recent years of the NHS”.
The reason for that is obvious but nothing can justify telling lies which, apart from damaging the reputation of the NHS, have caused untold misery to the millions who have been diagnosed with the disease we all fear above any other.
This news broke on the day that Theresa May admitted that she has no idea as to how many unwelcome guests have been arriving in the UK. Call it incompetent or dishonest, either way this government is becoming less appealing by the day!
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