Intended for healthcare professionals


UK’s poor performance on cancer survival

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 28 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6122
  1. Ruth Thorlby, assistant director of policy,
  2. Rebecca Fisher, senior policy fellow
  1. Health Foundation, London, UK
  2. Correspondence to: R Thorlby Ruth.Thorlby{at}

Short term approach to planning needs to be reversed

Studies that compare health outcomes across countries generate lively headlines (especially when the UK does badly) but have limited ability to explain why differences exist between countries. The recent Lancet study comparing progress in cancer survival across seven countries between 1995 and 2014 gathered unflattering media attention after it found that (steady improvement notwithstanding), the UK had the lowest five year survival rates for four out of seven cancers.1

Previous international comparisons have had a galvanising effect on policy makers. The results of the European Cancer Registry study (EUROCARE) in 19952 spurred the chief medical officers of England and Wales to produce the Calman Hine report, which centralised treatment for some cancers and established cancer networks.3 Continued poor performance reported in the next EUROCARE study in 19994 added to the pressure on the Labour government to launch a national cancer strategy for England in 2000. This boosted staff numbers, set waiting time targets for cancer treatment, and promised services equal to “the best in Europe.”

Since then, four more cancer strategies have …

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