When it comes to accessing the best drugs for cancer Britain is a second rate country to be sick in.
A new study by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, says that Britain along with New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic and South Africa, has one of the worst records when it comes to access to the latest cancer-fighting drugs.
The study by clinical oncologist Dr. Nils Wilking and Dr. Bengt Jonsson, director of the Center for Health Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, surveyed 19 European countries as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and the U.S.
Top of the league for their cancer treatment were Austria, France, Switzerland and the U.S. where doctors insist on using new cancer drugs.
France also had the highest five-year survival rate for all cancers (apart from non-melanoma skin cancer), where 71 percent of women and 53 percent of men survived each year from diseases related to cancer.
By comparison Britain had the lowest survival rates at 53 percent for women and 43 percent for men respectively; France, Spain, Germany and Italy treated nearly 51-52 percent of cancer patients with drugs launched after 1985, while Britain treated just 40 percent.
The new report also found that the uptake for the new colorectal and lung cancer drugs, which are among the world’s top cancer killers for both men and women were 10 times greater in the U.S. than in Europe, with UK having the lowest usage.
The report says Britain has one of the worst records for using new cancer drugs and it lays some of the blame on the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
NICE decides if the National Health Service (NHS) can fund new drugs and the report says NICE is responsible for the delays in drugs being approved, the very thing it was meant to avoid; approval is often delayed by as much as 18 months.
It was found that countries with a history of prescribing new drugs have the best five-year survival rates from the disease, whilst patients in countries with a poor record for using new drugs have lower survival rates.
New drugs account for between 14 and 19 per cent of the difference in death rates between high and low users.
In the UK, around 153,000 deaths are caused by cancer each year and while the UK has a good record on breast cancer drugs there are problems says the report with four drugs: Avastin and Erbitix, for bowel cancer, and Tarceva and Alimta, which treat lung cancer.
While the lung cancer drugs have not been approved by NICE they are available in Scotland; experts say the report is a “shocking indictment”.
Cancer charities also say that NHS patients are being penalised as a result of negative NICE guidance, NHS cash restraints and restrictive local practices.
The report is published in cancer journal Annals of Oncology.