Doctors 'don't know' why 60,000 UK patients die early, says cancer specialist

Professor Karol Sikora says we don't know why NHS avoidable death rates are so high

NHS avoidable death rates are higher in the UK than other EU countries

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reticent Brits and the slow pace of the NHS could be two of the reasons that more than 60,000 people in the UK suffered early deaths in 2013, says the former chief of the World Health Organisation cancer programme.  

Alongside figures showing that Britain's survival rates for nine of the 10 most common forms of cancer lags behind the European average, research by the European Union statistics office this week revealed that in 2013 - the most recent year for extensive data - more than 30,000 deaths from heart disease and strokes could have been avoided. 

Cancer consultant Professor Karol Sikora says that there is no single reason for the poor performance of Britain's over-stretched health service. 

"We don't know, and that's a horrible thing for a doctor to have to say," he told Julia Hartley-Brewer.

"It's partly patient factors. People in Britain are a bit slow at coming forward, especially men compared to women. 

"The second thing [is that] it's not that easy to get an appointment.

"[In] most of the other countries in Europe, everything is done very quickly. Here it's very slow, though we do have prioritisation for people who are likely to have cancer.

"But then you join the queue for investigations and often it's two or three months before you actually start cancer treatment.

"One of the things the NHS really lacks is electronic patient records, it's coming but it's painfully slow compared to Europe. 

"It allows you to press a button for that patient and pre-order a series of tests."

Sikora believes that the unique way in which the NHS is funded - making it free at the point of use - should mean patients are quicker, rather than slower, to come forward than on the continent.

"When it's completely free we should be better, because people won't be afraid to go to the doctor and lose money in the process, so it is really a puzzle," he said.