News this week has been full of the passing of Olivia Newton-John, after a thirty-year fight against that deadliest of killers - cancer. Followed swiftly by a revelation that actress Samantha Womack, who played Sandy in the Grease stage show, faces her own battle against the disease.
It is now just over 18 months since then Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, declared a “war on cancer” pledging to invest in potential new treatments to treat the huge backlog of cases which, though existing before, were very much exacerbated by the first year of the plague. He announced a ten-year plan that would clear the backlog from the virtual shutdown of the health service for all but one virus and go further still. One wonders when/if this is going to start, as every four minutes, another UK citizen succumbs to this deadliest of killers.
Figures leaked to the Health Service Journal have revealed that 327,395 people are on England's cancer waiting list, nearly 40,000 of whom have been waiting more than 62 days after a GP referral for suspected cancer. Crucially, with early treatment offering the greatest chance of survival, the number forced to wait more than 104 days has doubled since June 2021, to over 10,000.
Official figures have 2020 deaths with cancer as a primary cause at 167,000, but that figure doesn’t include those who tested positive for the plague in the last 28 days of their lives. Ask me how I know? I sat in a hospice, as medics there repeatedly tested my late wife for the plague, as cancer claimed another victim. We all know what would have been on the death certificate had one of them come back positive.
To add to the tragic scenario, Cancer Research UK report that fully half of people with cancer symptoms are waiting more than six months before finally approaching their GP. Having plucked up the courage to do so, they will then face trial by triage. This is where they have to discuss symptoms - often embarrassing in nature - with a receptionist in their efforts to gain that rarest of treasures – a face to face appointment.
The government will, of course, point to huge extra spending on the NHS, but how much reached patient care and how much benefitted Matt Hancock’s publican – as he swapped pulling pints for producing paper masks – is something we will probably never know the full truth of. What is certain is that there is too much waste, too much empire building within hospital groups.
Calling them “Trusts” is a misnomer. People have so little trust in this monolithic organisation that they wait too long to approach it – a statement borne out by the statistics above. The government have a virtual monopoly on health care in this country. Like all monopolies and, indeed, all government functions, there is no incentive for it to improve, other than that which emanates from the some of the wonderful staff within it.
If it is to remain at all, the NHS must operate in an environment where private healthcare is given the opportunity to compete and flourish. A reduction in NI contributions where private health insurance is taken out might be one small step in the right direction.
We simply cannot allow the health of the nation to remain the sole responsibility of the latest incumbent of a revolving-door style series of career politicians.
Martin Day – Party Secretary