David Cameron and Andrew Lansley\’s repeated criticisms of the NHS\’s record on cancer have been contradicted by new research that shows the health service to be an international leader in tackling the disease.
The findings challenge the government\’s claims that NHS failings on cancer contribute to 5,000-10,000 unnecessary cancer deaths a year, which ministers have used as a key reason for pushing through their radical shakeup of the service.
No, the figures do not show that at all.
While cancer deaths fell everywhere, 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 the fifth lowest rate among the 10 countries by 2004-06 with 2,869 deaths per million. Among men aged 55-64 and 65-74, who are more likely to get cancer, mortality dropped by 35% and 28%.
What they show is that the NHS used to be shite at cancer and now it\’s only middle ranking.
For measuring the rate of improvement is not the same as measuring the absolute rate. Think of cars for a moment: we can measure the rate of acceleration of a Trabbie going from 5-20 mph and this is faster than the acceleration of a Ferrari going from 65-70 mph (well, it might not be actually but you get the idea). But the Ferrari is still going at a faster absolute rate than the Trabbie, isn\’t it?
So it is with the NHS and cancer: results are getting better faster than some other places. But they\’re still worse than many other places.
And the NHS was the most efficient of the 10 countries at reducing cancer mortality ratios once the proportions of GDP spent on healthcare were compared, the study found.
Trivially true. Curing the first 10% of cancer cases that are curable is cheap. Curing the last 10% of cancer cases that are curable is going to be expensive. Because, you know, this marginal cost thing? So a system which spends less to cure less cancer is going to be more efficient in its use of money to cure cases of cancer. Because it\’s only curing the easy cases.
No, I don\’t know whether it\’s the paper itself which makes these false claims or the way the G has written it up. But the headline claim simply isn\’t what those numbers are showing. Even though the NHS has been getting better at curing cancer it\’s still bad at doing so.