Delays in some parts of Britain’s single-payer health care system are leaving certain residents to die more quickly of cancer, according to an analysis from a British cancer charity.
A Macmillan study of data from the British government found that cancer survival rates across the National Health Services local hospital groups, called clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), The Guardian reports. Some areas of the country are subject to clinical commissioning groups that aren’t meeting NHS deadlines for seeing and referring cancer patients — and the death rates of newly-diagnosed cancer patients are skyrocketing.
If each and every local NHS unit were operating at the same level as the CCG with the best one-year survival rate, Macmillan estimates that another 6,000 people per year would still be alive one year after being diagnosed with cancer.
“This analysis shows an inexcusable postcode lottery, which is responsible for 6,000 patients dying needlessly every year within 12 months of being diagnosed with cancer,” said Macmillan’s Juliet Bouverie. “It’s a no-brainer. When patients have to wait longer for diagnosis and treatment, their chances of surviving are significantly reduced.”
The CCGs with the lowest one-year survival rates for new cancer patients are those that aren’t meeting the NHS standards for waiting times, which require the medical service to begin treatment for cancer patients within 62 days of referral by a general physician.
“The majority of patients are treated with 62 days of an urgent GP referral, and many wait less than 31 days, but we know there is variation in meeting this challenging standard and we are working hard to get to the bottom of the reasons why,” said Sean Duffy, NHS England’s national clinical director for cancer.
Macmillan’s data was adjusted for the age and socioeconomic status of the cancer patients and for a high amount of cancers which are naturally more difficult to treat, indicating that the disparity is unlikely due to sicker, poorer or less-educated residents delaying their care. In any case, proponents of the United Kingdom’s socialized, single-payer health system argue that the structure prevents the rich from accessing better care than the poor.
The analysis concluded that the higher death rates in some areas were instead due to some general physicians’ failure to correctly diagnose cancer in some patients; patients delaying their initial visit to the doctor; and of course, limited access to vital tests such as MRIs and CT scans.
The NHS’ shortage of advanced scanning machines that best detect cancer in many cases is well-documented. An international report found in June that the NHS ranks near the bottom of the list of Western nations in the number of available MRI and CT machines, The Daily Mail reported.