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Better cancer treatment remains a ‘major’ public ‘priority’

Cancer care accounts for just 5-7% of NHS budget

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Enhancing cancer treatment is a “major priority” for the UK public, according to a new study, published today.

British Public Attitudes towards Cancer Research and Treatment in 2019, found that half (49%) the population believe cancer is the disease group for which they most want better treatments for themselves and their families. In addition, 59% believe that stopping the suffering caused by cancer is one of the most important things society could achieve by 2050.


The survey also found that public support for a tax funded NHS available to all remains strong. While 77% support the concept of universal publicly funded health care, only 7% oppose it. However, 82% of British adults believe NHS professionals need more resources to provide excellent cancer care.

With the UK due to leave the EU on October 31st this year, the survey found only 14% think cancer research and care will improve after Brexit: 26% actively disagree and the remainder are uncertain.

The research is part of the University College London’s (UCL) School of Pharmacy Cancer Policy Project. It was conducted online among a sample of 2,077 people aged 18 and over during April 2019.

Launching the report, lead author Professor David Taylor of the UCL School of Pharmacy, said: "Further improving cancer related health-outcomes is a major priority for people in every age group. Despite the costs of some interventions, cancer care presently accounts for only 5-7% of the NHS budget and NHS anti-cancer medicine spending currently represents no more than 0.2% of GDP.

"At UCL and across the UK, scientists are leading pioneering research that will transform the outlook for adults here and around the world who are living with conditions like lung cancer and for both children and adults with diseases such as leukaemias and lymphomas.

"If we can work together across the public, private and charity sectors and keep good European and wider research links, the UK will be able to go on playing a global role in creating cost-effective anti-cancer treatments and ending the suffering caused by cancer in people of all ages, and in doing so help earn its living in a post-Brexit environment.”

Despite majority confidence in specialist NHS cancer care, the survey found just under a third of adults were concerned that the NHS would not consistently provide the most effective treatments if they, or members of their family, were to develop cancer, or fear that the NHS would provide poor care compared to the world's best health care providers.

Professor Taylor added: "Problems with providing optimally effective cancer treatment and care for NHS patients in later life will intensify if the UK economy falters and skilled professionals leave.”

Other key findings include:

  • Four people in five (80%) want better early cancer detection services even if this increases the risk of “false alarms”. 
  • Two-thirds (66%) expect most cancers to be curable by 2050, or to be treatable in ways that stop them taking lives. 
  • The UK public is divided about funding cancer research and paying for new treatments. Some 43% say the NHS should purchase cancer treatments as cheaply as possible regardless of impacts on research and UK investment while 53% say the NHS should pay prices that encourage research and investment.

Commenting on the report, Emlyn Samuel, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "Despite progress, UK cancer survival lags behind other countries and the number of people getting cancer is growing - by 2035 one person will be diagnosed with cancer every minute.

"Early diagnosis is crucial to improving patients' chances of survival, but NHS staff shortages are impeding our ability to meet demand and introduce new technologies effectively.

"The government must invest to resolve staff shortages now and in the long term, or it will be impossible to meet its ambition to diagnose three in four cancers at an early stage by 2028."

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