Thousands of women are dying unnecessarily of breast cancer because of a ‘dereliction of duty’ by ministers, a damning report reveals today.
A leading health charity says progress on tackling breast cancer in the UK has ‘stalled’ – with NHS red tape meaning patients are missing out on rapid advances in medical science.
Breast Cancer Now’s landmark report says a ‘continued lack of leadership’ by politicians and officials means thousands more women will die needlessly. One expert last night accused them of ‘shameful irresponsibility’.
The report says women are missing out on the latest treatments – which cost tens of thousands of pounds per patient – because the NHS drugs rationing system is too rigid and bureaucratic.
A leading health charity says progress on tackling breast cancer in the UK has ‘stalled’ (stock photo)
At the same time, muddled funding guidance means 27,000 women are also denied life-saving pills priced at just 43p a day – costing an estimated 1,180 lives every year. The report also said:
- Waiting times for cancer referrals are getting longer – with hospitals consistently missing their target of starting patients’ treatment within 62 days of GP referral;
- Breast cancer screening rates are also falling – from 74.8 per cent in 2005/6 to 72.1 per cent in 2015/16;
- There is a looming shortfall in radiologists to carry out scans, with 21 per cent expected to retire by 2020, and 32 per cent by 2025.
Breast Cancer Now said there had been huge advances in breast cancer treatment over the past 25 years, with more women than ever before surviving the disease.
But while scientific research is steaming ahead elsewhere, the impact on the UK is plateauing, with a lack of action by the Government and NHS officials meaning the benefits are not being felt by patients.
Decisions on breakthrough cancer drugs Perjeta and Palbociclib are still pending, amid fierce rows between drugs companies and officials.
The report says women are missing out on the latest treatments – which cost tens of thousands of pounds per patient (stock photo)
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘This continued lack of leadership across UK nations will cost thousands more lives. While we have seen real strides forward in recent decades, these figures highlight a worrying plateau in NHS progress on breast cancer. The system is broken and we urgently need to see joined-up leadership to fix these issues. We cannot let progress continue to stall.
‘We’re extremely concerned that UK patients will be denied the best new breast cancer drugs like Perjeta and Palbociclib on account of their cost – but they cannot even access cheap re-purposed drugs, so this is not all about funds.’
More than 55,000 British women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Although survival rates have improved, it still kills 11,500 women a year.
Allowing all suitable women in the UK to take cheap bisphosphonates drugs, which cost an average of 43p a day, would save 1,180 lives a year, the report said. Another cheap drug – 7p-a-day tamoxifen, which has been highlighted by the Daily Mail for years – is being denied to thousands of women.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said the lack of leadership with ‘cost thousands more lives’
Baroness Morgan said: ‘In bisphosphonates, we have a simple and cost-effective chance to cut 10 per cent of all UK breast cancer deaths, using drugs already at the NHS’s disposal. That this is not being taken is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.’
Bisphosphonates alter bone tissue, making it harder for cancer to spread to the bones, where it becomes incurable. But despite overwhelming evidence and strong clinical support from leading clinical bodies, the absence of clear commissioning guidance means many patients are missing out.
It remains unclear whether it is the responsibility of the hospital trust or the local clinical commissioning group to pay for these drugs for their patients, or whether it should be funded centrally by NHS England. In most cases, this muddle means doctors simply do not prescribe them. Professor Rob Coleman, expert in medical oncology at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘That over 1,000 women a year are being allowed to die unnecessarily from breast cancer is a shameful irresponsibility.’
Breast Cancer Now set out 18 key recommendations, including clearer guidance on bisphosphonates, a clear plan on training more radiologists, and rapid reform of the drug appraisal and funding system. Breast cancer research has some of the highest levels of government funding, receiving £42.2 million in 2014, compared with £19.5 million allocated for prostate cancer.
NHS England said the report was ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding: ‘As well as upgrading modern radiotherapy equipment and ensuring faster access to the most promising new cancer drugs, the NHS is investing £200 million over the next two years in faster diagnosis and modern treatment.’