This website is intended for healthcare professionals only.

Hospital Healthcare Europe
Hospital Healthcare Europe

England lagging behind rest of Europe in cancer survival rates

Beth Gault
30 November, 2018  

Cancer patients in England have a poorer survival rate than patients in other European countries, according to the Health Foundation.

A report by the charity looked at the progress made since the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000, which aimed to see five-year survival rates for cancer in England compare with the best in Europe by 2010.

Delays in diagnosis and treatment

NHS England said it had invested an extra £200 million to transform cancer care across the country, with state of the art radiotherapy equipment and mobile scanning trucks.

However, the report claimed this investment was still lagging behind other countries. Out of 37 countries, the UK came 35th for the availability of CT scanners, and 31st out of 36 for MRI scanners.

There was also found to be a shortage of staff to operate this machinery and report the results, which has led to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Health Foundation assistant director of policy, Ruth Thorlby, said: “Our report highlights the importance of the infrastructure that needs to be in place to engage and support clinicians and managers to improve a complex service such as cancer.

“Although investment is clearly needed in workforce and equipment, the experience of the past 20 years in cancer shows that staff need support, evidence and skills to implement change. Without these, the injection of resources alone will not be effective.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS is now seeing two million urgent GP referrals a year, half a million more than in 2015 when NICE updated their referral criteria, with record numbers of people receiving treatment.

“Cancer survival rates are now at their highest ever and further work to ensure faster and earlier diagnosis and treatment is already underway and will be a cornerstone of the NHS’s long term plan for cancer to help save more lives.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said that early diagnosis was a ‘key priority’ for the Government, and from next year patients with suspected cancer will receive either diagnosis or have cancer ruled out within 28 days.

A spokesperson said: “We also announced a package of cancer measures last month that will radically improve the system and ensure 55,000 more people survive cancer for five years from 2028.”

Survival rates

The report also found that despite the UK’s “persistent ambitions” to be the best in Europe and the rest of the world, the gap in survival rates had not closed. A person diagnosed with colon cancer in the UK has a 60% chance of survival after five years, whereas in Australia the figure is 71%.

It found that the proportion of people being diagnosed with cancer at an early stage remained almost static between 2015 and 2017. Early detection of bowel cancer can change the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer from less than 10% if diagnosed later, to over 90% if caught early.

The Health Foundation called for “radical improvements in the early diagnosis and detection of cancer” to improve survival rates.