Blair's Strategy on Cancer 'Is Flawed'; EXCLUSIVE: EXPERT DENOUNCES 'TWO-WEEK PLEDGE' AS WINDOW DRESSING

Daily Mail (London), December 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Blair's Strategy on Cancer 'Is Flawed'; EXCLUSIVE: EXPERT DENOUNCES 'TWO-WEEK PLEDGE' AS WINDOW DRESSING


Byline: DAVID HUGHES

TONY BLAIR'S flagship anticancer policy has been dealt a devastating blow by a leading international expert in the disease.

Professor Karol Sikora, head of the World Health Organisa-tion's cancer programme, has branded the strategy flawed and says it amounts to 'little more than window dressing'.

At the heart of his attack on the

Government's priorities is Mr Blair's pledge that anyone suspected of having any form of cancer will be seen by a specialist within two weeks.

Professor Sikora insists there is no evidence that delay in diagnosis is a significant problem in Britain and says he warned the then Health Secretary Frank Dobson two years ago that this was not an issue. He claims, however, that at the recent 'cancer summit' he and other specialists were told that the policy, for which Mr Blair has earmarked an extra [pounds sterling]10million, had gone too far to be stopped.

Professor Sikora warns that without more money in cancer services Britain will continue to lag behind our European neighbours in survival rates for the illness.

He makes his attack in a letter to the Department of Health, a copy of which has been leaked to the Daily Mail.

It makes grim reading for Mr Blair and Health Secretary Alan Milburn, who have put the battle against cancer at the centre of their health strategy.

The intervention from such an eminent authority as Professor Sikora, who is also Visiting Professor of Cancer Medicine at London's Imperial College, will lead to new pressure on the Department to rethink its priorities.

The professor is also withering about the clinical guidelines sent to GPs by the Health Department on the urgent referral of cases.

He dismisses them as patronising, and warns that 'most copies are likely to end up in the bin'.

Professor Sikora wrote to the Department of Health after being asked for his views on the new guidelines.

'Unfortunately, I believe the whole approach is flawed,' he says. 'There is no evidence whatsoever that delay in diagnosis is a significant problem in the UK and thus efforts to implement a two-week policy are misplaced.' He says that he has visited many countries with the World Health Organisation and declares: 'Nowhere does a state health department have a two-week policy or send out such gratuitous advice to doctors - and yet many have better outcomes for cancer care. …

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