Nine in 10 cancer survival rates worse than in Europe

Cancer survival rates - David Davies/PA
Cancer survival rates – David Davies/PA

Nine in ten cancer survival rates are worse in Britain than in Europe owing to delays on new drugs, say NHS chiefs.

A study by NHS Confederation and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) warns that the health service appears “uncomfortable with innovation”, even though it could save lives.

The joint paper says “conservatism” and “ageist assumptions” mean too many patients are being denied the treatments they need.

UK survival rates lag behind the European average in nine out of 10 cancers, “with access to cancer medicines being consistently lower than most European countries”, the report said.

It said people are also more likely to die young from some conditions than in parts of Europe, with “50 per cent more years lost to ischaemic heart disease than France or Spain, 60 per cent more years lost to lung cancer than Finland or Sweden and 50 per cent more years lost to stroke than Austria”.

The study examines evidence dating back from 2000, which compares the relative performance in countries in Europe.

One research paper, published in 2017, comparing cancer survival from 2000 to 2007, found Britain fared worse for stomach, bowel, rectal, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate, kidney and non-hodgkins lymphoma, when compared against the European average.

Despite improvements, more recent research published before the pandemic shows the UK continued to lag, with the poorest five-year survival rate for five out of seven cancers.

Experts fear progress has been set back further by the pandemic, with tens of thousands of patients missing diagnoses amid struggles to access diagnosis and treatment since the first lockdown.

The report said improving access to innovative medicines would boost productivity, which would benefit the entire economy.

“Innovative medicines transform individual patient lives as well as bringing significant benefits to the UK economy and to society as a whole – through greater patient and carer productivity, NHS productivity and more,” it said.

“It is estimated that the UK economy would achieve £17.9 billion additional productivity gains through the increased uptake of innovative medicines.

“For the NHS and the wider health and care system to survive and thrive for the benefit of its users, innovation at every stage and in every aspect is not only desirable but necessary.”

Matthew Taylor, the NHS Confederation chief executive, said: “Improving access to innovative medicines is not only beneficial for the individual patients receiving them, but also for the wider health and care system.

“This report demonstrates that collective efforts from the NHS and industry can help to overcome the enormous challenges currently faced by the health service to still achieve reductions in health inequalities and improvements to population health in the UK.”

‘Collective efforts’ can help overcome challenges

Richard Torbett, the ABPI chief executive, said: “Everyone in the health system wants to see improved access to care. By implementing the ideas in this report, particularly around improving access to innovative medicines, we can make real and rapid improvements that will relieve the pressures on the NHS.”

A joint ABPI and PwC report published in May found that more equal use of 13 medicines for stroke prevention, kidney disease, asthma and type 2 diabetes – in line with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommendations – could bring significant economic benefits to the UK plus benefits for patients and carers.

It said that, for these four medicine classes alone, 1.2 million patients were missing out on innovative treatments.

An NHS spokesman said: “The NHS is internationally competitive in adopting innovative medicines, and while this report only looks at cancer medicines access up to 2015, recent industry data show there are actually five treatments available in England for every four in Europe and almost a third more cancer drugs with the Cancer Drugs Fund providing fast-track access to lifesaving treatments.

“NHS England has secured numerous world-first and first-in-Europe medicines deals and is showing international leadership in eliminating infectious disease and tackling antimicrobial resistance, all while delivering value for taxpayers.”

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