Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bad Cancer.

This is in response to this article on BBC News about a new £50 million fund for cancer patients to be given new drugs that aren't currently funded. It's supposedly the answer to the UK's poor showing in providing drugs developed in the last five years to patients late on in their illness and will give doctors the power to provide drugs not approved by NICE (the panel which decides whether a drug is cost effective).

Oh yeah, and in a side note it will be funded by scrapping personal care for the elderly.

Now, obviously I'm in favour of everyone receiving the best possible care and cancer is obviously an horrific illness, but I really think this kind of scheme is playing more to the press than it is aimed at doing good. Cancer seems to be the new buzz word in health for the press, you only have to look back to the election to see just how much it was used to encompass the whole argument on health. You'd be forgiven for thinking that there was only one illness around at the moment.

I think NICE get it in the neck unfairly and this won't help, they're basically being told, we'll listen to you, but then undermine you when we fancy it. I know its fashionable to say that doctors know best, but when I'm a doctor I'd rather not have to be thinking about how much value for money I'm getting. I'll always have the patients interests first and foremost which means if you gave the decision making power to doctors a lot of money would be spent very quickly on treatments that actually didn't prolong life very much in most patients but which have some hope. Doing that would very quickly drain money from the NHS and we'd be left with a shortfall of cash in other areas which are equally important but don't include direct patient contact.

That's shown pretty well by the fact that personal care for the elderly is seen as easily expendable for this new fund. These kind of initiatives are important not only for the elderly but also in terms of saving funds because those with personal care will be less likely to have accidents that require more treatment. We should never lose sight of the massive importance of preventative medicine, it always seems to be seen as an easy target for cuts because its hard to measure its effectiveness in the same way as other areas.

And as for the fact we rank low in terms of providing new medicines, its important to remember that the same study also said there was no correlation between access to new medicine and survival rates. The key factor remains finding the cancer early, if you want to tackle cancer hen you have to focus on early intervention. These new drugs aren't curative, we can't pretend that what's happening at the moment is that revolutionary life saving drugs are being denied, that isn't what these are. (I believe Cameron talked about us having a worse cancer survival rate than Bulgaria or some similar country, just to correct this, we don't, we just have one of the world's foremost cancer registry's so we know when people have cancer, other countries have worse cancer rates that don't get recorded).

In conclusion, stop pandering to the media, if new drugs have been found to be effective then expand the scope of NICE to allow them to approve more drugs, letting individual doctors decide isn't the answer.

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