What is the NHS doing with our £136bn? – The Telegraph

The cancer catastrophe is fast becoming one of the biggest avoidable tragedies of modern times and urgent action must be taken
August seems a tad early for the NHS winter crisis but, apparently, it’s never too soon to start warning people not to use their health service. To be fair, we only spend £136 billion a year on it and they have got one of the world’s biggest bureaucracies to look after, fleets of luxury cars to subsidise for staff etc, so it would be entirely unreasonable to expect any treatment. You do have to marvel, though, at the brass neck of those who are planning a campaign which will urge the public to avoid A&E.
“Tell you what, Barry, let’s not have an accident today.”
“Don’t be daft, Val, love, you can’t plan on not having an accident. That’s why it’s called an accident.”  
“But the NHS says it’s under strain and they don’t want us going to A&E for an accident unless it’s an emergency.”  
“How do we know if it’s an emergency?”
“You call 111 and ask, Barry.”
We’re going to hang on the phone for half an hour to ask some medically-unqualified, call-centre divot if we’ve got an emergency? Whatever next – Do-It-Yourself defibrillators in the home?”
“Not with your angina, Barry, love.”
“Are we still allowed to call an ambulance, Val?”
“Yes, but it won’t come.”
“Why not?”
“Because A&E is full of all the people who can’t see their GP. So the ambulances can’t unload patients. Sadie says there’s this amazing country where you can directly call your GP in the evenings and at weekends and they refer you to a specialist instantly by text and you can choose a date and time of your appointment from this list of options.”
“Where’s that then, Val?”
We’ve had enough, haven’t we? God knows, we are a tolerant people, but we’ve had enough. Because we did as we were told last time and stayed at home to support the NHS, the Office for National Statistics says there are now at least 1,000 more deaths than usual every week. In the spring of 2020, I predicted that lockdown would end up killing more people than Covid – one of only a handful of journalists prepared to ask what was going to happen to all the other ill people if the NHS shut them out. “Pearson wants people to die,” was the standard retort.
Well, today, it’s the lockdown enthusiasts who stand accused of abetting a massacre. Remember when, every night, the news used to update the total of Covid deaths? I’d like to see the BBC and ITV start reporting the daily toll of lives lost because cancers (and heart disease) were found too late. A terrifyingly large and growing number in the corner of the screen might just wake the public up to what I believe is fast becoming one of the biggest avoidable tragedies of modern times.
Imagine a train full of commuters hurtling towards a truck which has broken down on the line ahead. Passengers are screaming at the driver to take action and avert disaster. He acts as if he can’t hear them. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what is happening every single day to cancer patients in the UK.
Some of our most eminent oncologists are shouting at the Department of Health and the NHS, pleading with them to please, please, take the urgent action that will save the lives of countless men, women and children. Nothing happens.
This week, I spoke to clinical oncologist Prof Pat Price for the Planet Normal podcast. She told me that, even before the pandemic, the UK had among the lowest cancer survival rates of Western countries, but that dire situation is now a full-blown catastrophe which is not being seen elsewhere.
“There will be tens of thousands of cancer patients who will lose their lives prematurely because of this,” says Price. “For every four weeks’ delay in treatment, there’s on average a 10 per cent reduction in survival. Once you get past a tipping point with the spread, it can’t be cured. That also means we often have to do more for those desperately ill patients and, again, we’re running out of treatment capacity. It’s a vicious circle.”
Price points to systemic failure. “It’s patients feeling they can’t bother the NHS yet or not being able to get GP appointments. Then, referrals are taking too long and when patients do get into hospitals there are backlogs for biopsies and scans and then more delays to see radiotherapy and surgeons. It’s delays throughout the whole process and it’s getting worse and worse every day.”
The Government and NHS management are in complete denial. “For the first nine months, we had NHS senior management saying they didn’t know if there was a cancer backlog. After nine months, we had this so-called Recovery Group and cancer care was going to get better by March 2021. No action points in it, just hope,” recalls a despairing Price, “And then that failed. The next year, we were going to do better and again nothing happened. It was only when Sajid Javid became health secretary, nearly two years in, that they said, ‘Oh, there is a problem. Let’s have a war on cancer!’ Too late.”
An exasperated Price notes that, in this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Government said they’d fix the cancer backlog by March 2023. “How? How are you going to do that if you don’t do anything. And you know, Allison, I think now it’s just got too difficult for them to deal with.” 
The scandal may be even more toxic than we know. In order to cope with the lack of capacity, the NHS introduced what it called “stratified treatment”. That’s rationing to you and me. I didn’t know that the NICE guidelines, during the Covid pandemic, included prioritisation of cancer patients according to “curability”, and those were only withdrawn as late as May this year. Got a brain tumour? Bad luck, go to the back of the radiotherapy queue!
“Some might describe this as a form of ‘stratification’,” says Price, “But whatever euphemisms are used, this lack of capacity chasm risks us facing a form of ‘back door’ rationing, an outcome that would be unthinkable to the profession and a possibility that ought to spur our political leaders to action as never before.” 
With 35 other top British oncologists, Price is calling for a major national effort on a par with the world-beating vaccine rollout. “You make sure we’ve got the PM’s approval to go away and do whatever is necessary. You cast away your bureaucracy. You use the data, you get every single best brain on it. You get radiotherapy centres equipped properly, put the machines in the diagnostic hubs, get staff in, empower the frontline, get surgery into the cancer hubs. You make sure that the 62-day target (until starting cancer treatment) is the extreme not the norm. It can be done, it really can.”
All we have seen so far is health ministers and cancer directors employed by NHS England spouting PR puffery about the extra billions that have been poured in, which now seem to have been absorbed by – surprise! – staff pay increases.
No wonder Price is at her wits’ end. Before the pandemic, around 460 people would die every day of cancer. Without immediate intervention – what Pat calls “a handbrake-turn” – that number could easily double.
But that is the sort of country we are now, isn’t it? A snivelling excuse for a once-civilised nation that is slithering into barbarism, where excrement fouls our beaches. A country that allows a vast, metastasising bureaucracy to gobble up billions of taxpayers’ money and can’t find a billion or so to buy radiotherapy and scanning equipment to prevent the avoidable loss of what could very well be 150,000 beloved human beings.
Which one of us can believe this sick state of affairs? I can’t. It’s monstrous. If Steve Barclay, allegedly the current Secretary of State for Health (hullo, Steve, anybody there?), doesn’t give the marvellous Prof Price and her colleagues the resources they need to start saving thousands of lives immediately, then they can forget about a war on cancer. There will be a war on the Government. We’ve had enough. 
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