US Republican Party presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged that cancer statistics he previously cited were outdated, but said his point remained the same: beware of British health care.
Mr Giuliani, who has suffered prostate cancer, has taken criticism from British and US health officials for saying in a radio advertisement recently that the US survival rate for the disease was 82% while the survival rate under the UK’s “socialised medicine” was 44%.
Health officials in both countries say the most recent statistics show five-year survival rates for prostate cancer are 99% in the USA and 74% under the UK’s NHS.
Mr Giuliani told reporters he was using statistics from 2000. He said “those statistics have changed slightly today”, but did not back away from the broader comparison.
“Even if you want to quibble about statistics, you find me the person who leaves the United States and goes to England for prostate cancer treatment, and I would like to meet that person,” he said.
The debate about overhauling the US healthcare system is a top issue in the campaign for the November 2008 presidential election.
Many Democratic candidates, such as Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, have proposed universal healthcare coverage for Americans through a mixture of private and public plans. It would not be government-run health care, but Republicans often portray it as a similar “big-government fix”.
Mr Giuliani said: “If we ever got to Hillarycare in this country, Canadians will have nowhere to go for healthcare.”
Canada has a government-funded universal healthcare system.
UK Health Secretary Alan Johnson said Mr Giuliani’s figures were wrong and complained about his attacks on the NHS.
“The British NHS should not become a political football in American presidential politics,” Mr Johnson told the London newspaper The Times.
Cancer survival rate statistics depend on the number of cancers that are detected and when they are reported, and therefore may not necessarily reflect how well a healthcare system performs at preventing cancer deaths overall.
The Times said roughly the same proportion of men – 25 out of 100,000 – died of prostate cancer in the USA and the UK each year.
The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that supports research on health systems, reported recently that Americans spent double what people in other industrialised countries did on healthcare, but had more trouble seeing doctors, were the victims of more errors and went without treatment more often.
Its annual survey comparing the US healthcare system with those of countries with national health plans finds the USA consistently last in most categories.