Leading cancer expert compares some NHS treatment to that of a developing country

Professor Karol Sikora says if you're unlucky the NHS can be 'comparable with a developing country'

Effective cancer treatment is a partnership between the medical team and the patient, says Professor Karol Sikora

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A former head of the World Health Organisation's cancer programme claims that NHS treatment of the disease can be no better than in a developing country.

A staunch campaigner for better cancer treatment and a consultant oncologist at Hammersmith Hospital, Professor Karol Sikora  has released a book, The Street-Wise Patient's Guide to Surviving Cancer, advising people on how to get the best treatment from the NHS.

"Our cancer survival statistics are much poorer than the rest of Europe's," he told Julia Hartley-Brewer. 

"You can get the best care in the world out of [the NHS], but the average is not that great, and the bottom end of it, if you're unlucky, is very poor - comparable with a developing country.

"So what's wrong? The NHS is free for everybody, but wealthier and better-educated people do better with cancer than those that are more deprived. My feeling is that's [down to] how people use the system. 

"Be persistent. If you have symptoms and they don't disappear after two weeks, don't be fobbed off.

"Dial 111, go to an out-of-hours clinic, do something. There's plenty of avenues to get into the NHS, it's just that somehow they're not very welcoming, not very friendly. 

"There's tremendous people working in the NHS, but the system is so top-laden with bureaucracy, run by people who have never seen a patient in their life."

The oncologist also underlines the value of patients having a greater understanding of what they are dealing with.

"Information is power. You need to understand what type of cancer you have, what the treatment options are," he said. "The internet is a very powerful tool, but it can also be very confusing. It's important to use selective sites, such as Macmillan and Cancer Research UK in Britain, or the gold standard American National Cancer Institute site.

"Be persistent polite and calm, there's no point in shouting. You have to have an open dialogue. Cancer treatment is a partnership between the medical team and the patient."