Cancer doctors told to become lobbyists

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 02 October 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:874
  1. Ann Kent
  1. Stowmarket, Suffolk

    Disillusioned medical staff should lobby their MPs for improvements in cancer services, according to Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North and chairman of the All-Party Group on Cancer.

    Dr Gibson, former dean of biological sciences at the University of East Anglia, told a conference in Cambridge last week that he had been impressed by the efforts of the lobbyists he had seen at work in Washington. “Lobbying in the United States has led to a doubling in the cancer budget. However, lobbying is foreign to us in this country.

    “My biggest disappointment is that some of the bodies who represent you don't lobby hard enough. You are also part of that process and if things come up which frustrate you, then have a go at your MP for 10 or 15 minutes. It will filter down to the right place.”

    The conference, at St John's college, was entitled “Towards optimal patient care in cancer—can we improve on delivery?” Dr Gibson refuted a warning from another speaker, veteran campaigner Karol Sikora, that future advances might be limited to the private sector.

    Professor Sikora, former chief of the World Health Organisation's cancer programme, was clinical director for cancer services at the Hammersmith Hospital, west London, for 12 years. He is now vice president of clinical research at the pharmaceutical company Pharmacia and Upjohn.

    Professor Sikora said: “Britain is lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of cancer survival. If we were in the same league as those providing the best care in Europe we would save 25000 lives a year.

    If we were only up there with the average, we would save 10000 lives The problem lies with the quality of care and it needs investment in all areas of cancer treatment to correct it. My worry is that cancer care will evolve out of the NHS as we know it, in the same way that dentistry and eye care has evolved out of it. The rich will pay for their treatment by taking out catastrophic illness insurance.”

    Dr Gibson said his parliamentary colleagues would not allow that to happen “If there were attempts to move money into the private sector it would be daggers at dawn. I can tell you that the NHS is dear to us Many of us will fight to ensure that people continue to get equal access to its facilities. The time for cancer has come. The government and MPs are very interested in what is going on and want to play their part.”

    However, Dr Gibson was critical of the way the major cancer organisations seemed to work in isolation. He commented that he and his colleagues would be visiting three separate meetings on cancer during the Labour party conference.

    “It would be nice if we could get those people on to a broader platform People are still used to the culture of putting their heads down and doing it on their own. We are trying to bring the research charities together and get them to meet more often, and find new joined up ways of working together. I would like to see the setting up of a National Cancer Institute.”

    He was also keen to get the tobacco companies to pay for the damage they caused. “They are serial killers and we really want to take them on,” he said.

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