UK lags behind EU on cancer care

UK lags behind EU on cancer care
Credit: Tyler Olson

The UK is falling behind the rest of Europe in the treatment of cancer, according to a new report commissioned by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

British patients have worse survival rates after five years – the international benchmark for measuring the quality of cancer care – compared to the European average in nine out of ten cancers – only exceeding the EU average in melanoma.

​​​​Despite the increasing burden of cancer on society, the UK spends over 20% less per person on cancer than the top five EU economies; 20% less of its total health budget on cancer than the rest of the EU, and 10% less of its GDP on healthcare than the rest of the EU.

The report is a UK focussed analysis which builds on the Swedish Institute for Health Economics’ (IHE) European Cancer Comparator Report, which reported on the state of cancer care in Europe over a 20 year period from 1995 to 2014.

The new analysis is launched alongside an online toolkit ​which, for the first time, means the data can be used to easily compare UK and EU cancer care.

The findings highlight the impact of lower investment in NHS cancer care than many of our European neighbours:​

UK cancer survival rates lag behind the European average in 9 out of 10 cancers. If the UK achieved the cancer survival rates of Germany, over 35,000 more people would be alive five years after diagnosis.

The UK has the worst survival outcomes across Europe for ovarian cancer. The UK’s Ovarian cancer survival rate is 34.0% of patients surviving for five years or more. European average is 40.8%​

Access to cancer medicines is consistently lower than most European countries. Across a sample of six commonly used cancer medicines, on average UK patients have lower levels of access than comparable EU countries.

The report shows that, across Europe, increased investment in cancer care leads to improved patient outcomes. This includes investment in early diagnosis, patient access to optimal treatments – including surgery, radiotherapy and medicines – and support for cancer survivors.

The report also reveals the extent to which scientific breakthroughs achieved in the last 30 years have contributed to treating cancer more effectively, as the proportion of EU spending on cancer medicines compared to total cancer spending has risen from eight per cent in 2005 to 25% in 2014.

Despite this, spending on cancer care has remained relatively stable as patients are kept out of hospital for longer. Investments in cancer medicines should rightly be viewed in this broader context.