‘British cancer and heart attack victims are more likely to die than almost anywhere in the advanced world’

That was a line from the Daily Mail coverage of the latest comparative medical outcome figures from the OECD. What is remarkable is that most other newspapers gave the figures so little coverage. I have searched the Guardian website using the words ‘OECD cancer’ and got nothing on the story at all. The figures were, however covered in the Daily Telegraph, among other newspapers. But even there the news was less prominent.
Maybe news editors reckon that everybody knows that British healthcare is among the least effective in the developed world. Maybe such figures have come out so often that they are not considered worth reporting any more. Is the failure of the NHS becoming the elephant in the room which no one comments on any more and which some people prefer to think is not there?
Yes, these sorts of figures have been revealed before. But for the past decade, the Labour government has been ploughing enormous amounts of extra money into health care. Is it not of interest that this gigantic boost has left us, still, with one of the least effective health care systems in the advanced world? Should that not tell us something about the NHS system?
In the USA, you have a 90.5pc chance of being alive 5 fears after diagnosis with breast cancer. In Britain you have a 78.5pc chance. The OECD average is 81.2pc. If you are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the USA, you have a 65.5pc chance of surviving five years after diagnosis. In the UK you have a 51.6pc chance.
What about if you have a heart attack? In the UK you have a 6.3pc chance of dying within 30 days of being admitted to hospital. In Denmark you are half as likely to die. If you have a stroke, it is even more important to be outside Britain. You have a 17.4pc chance of being dead 30 days after admission to a British hospital. If you were in Austria, you would be far less likely to die: the figure is 7pc.
It is wholly true that cancer survival rates in Britain are improving. But they are improving around the rest of the world, too. The NHS continues to underperform compared to virtually all other health care systems. Some would like to follow the American system. Some would like the German or the Swiss model. Frankly, in terms of outcomes, any system other than the national government monopoly in Britain would be better than what we have now.
- The OECD press release shows that the USA spends a higher proportion of its GDP on publicly-funded healthcare than Britain.
- Most figures for cancer survival that I have seen before compare only the European countries with each other. This one shows the USA, too, and the figures I have seen so far show it to be doing better than Europe.
- Life expectancy is not a good way of measuring medical care systems. Life expectancy is strongly influenced by lifestyles. Those who are fat will, on average, die younger than those who are not. No medical system can turn that around. The most effectice health care reform that could take place would be if the people of a country adopted the traditional Japanese diet or something of that sort.
The Daily Mail coverage.
Part two of Daily Mail coverage.
The OECD press release.

  1. Britain spends less on cancer drugs per head than France or Germany
  2. If you get cancer, it is better to live in France, Switzerland or probably any advanced country rather than Britain
  3. Heart disease – your chances are better outside Britain
  4. Yes, our premature deaths from heart disease are better – but the same is true in many other countries
  5. The treatments that are not always easily available to NHS cancer patients
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