UK has 'worst access to cancer drugs'

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The UK is one of the worst countries for giving cancer patients access to new drugs, a study has revealed.

Swedish researchers also warned that cancer sufferers around the world faced "stark inequalities" in access to treatment and stressed that differences in the uptake of new drugs were having an impact on survival rates from the disease.

Scientists from the Karolinska Institute and the Stockholm School of Economics analysed access to 67 cancer drugs across 25 countries.

Publishing their findings in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology, the authors of the report warn that uptake of new cancer treatments is "low and slow" in the UK.

New Zealand, Poland, the Czech Republic and South Africa were also named in the bottom group of countries for providing access to cancer drugs, while Austria, France, Switzerland and the United States were found to be the best.

Researchers said they had found "no evidence" that the UK's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – the official body which approves drugs for use – had met its objective of avoiding significant delays in bringing new cancer treatments to the market.

UK cancer patients were found to have less chance of surviving their illness as a result, with the Swedish report stressing that within Europe differing access to cancer drugs had impacted on survival rates in the continent's five major countries.

France, one of the leading nations for access to cancer drugs, was found to have the highest five-year survival rate for all cancers except non-melanoma skin cancer, with 71 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men surviving.

The UK had the lowest at 53 per cent and 43 per cent respectively.

Scientists also found that just 40 per cent of UK cancer patients had access to drugs launched after 1985, in contrast to over half in France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

The report's authors are now urging policymakers to ensure that cancer patients have equal access to life saving drugs no matter where they live.

Clinical oncologist Dr Nils Wilking, who coproduced the study, said: "Our report highlights that in many countries new drugs are not reaching patients quickly enough and that this is having an adverse impact on patient survival.

"Where you live can determine whether you receive the best available treatment or not," he added.

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