Tobacco firms to fund cancer pledge

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Published: Saturday 18th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Patients in England with suspected cancer will be guaranteed tests and results within a week by 2020 under Labour plans paid for by a levy on tobacco firms.

Labour leader Ed Miliband declared his ambition for the National Health Service to have the best cancer survival rates in Europe, a goal which could save 10,000 lives a year.

The cancer test guarantee will be funded with £750 million raised over the five years of the next parliament by a new tax on tobacco companies “whose products cause so much ill health and suffering”, Mr Miliband said.

The £150-million-a-year tax was announced at Labour’s conference and Mr Miliband used an interview with The Times to set out how the money would be spent.

“It is critical that we improve early diagnosis of cancer – a killer disease that one in three of us will get – so that we can match the best countries in the world for surviving it,” he said.

“And this is a plan paid for by money raised from the profits of the tobacco firms whose products have done so much to cause cancer in the first place.”

The cancer package will also include ensuring GPs have the training and support they need to spot symptoms and refer patients speedily.

By 2020, Labour will guarantee a maximum wait of a week for cancer tests with results, with plans to have a seven-day guarantee for urgent diagnostics for other conditions by 2025.

The plan will focus at first on tests which experts say are particularly beneficial, such as chest x-rays for lung cancer, abdominal ultrasound for ovarian cancer, and endoscopy for bowel cancer.

The Labour leader, who was mocked for forgetting a key passage on the deficit in his conference speech, used the address to party activists last month to announce a £2.5 billion Time to Care fund for the NHS.

The party said the cancer test guarantee was one of the priorities for that fund, and sources said early diagnoses could help save the NHS money and make it more sustainable in the long run.

The average cost of treating stage one colon cancer is £3,373 compared to £12,519 at stage four, while ovarian cancer treated at stage one costs £5,328 and £15,081 at stage four.

Labour said waits for cancer tests were increasing, with the number waiting more than six weeks for key diagnostic procedures up from 1,900 in May 2010 to more than 10,600 in August this year.

According to figures from Cancer Research last month, 54% of cancers were diagnosed at stages one or two.

Labour wants that proportion to increase to two-thirds of cancers being diagnosed at an early stage.

By the end of the next parliament, the party wants the whole of England to get up to the standard of the best-performing areas, which see around 60% of cancer sufferers diagnosed at an early stage.

Labour claims the plan fits with its strategy for an NHS more focused on helping people stay in their communities through better support and prevention, as well as on early diagnosis and treatment.

Mr Miliband said: “Labour has different values on the NHS than this Government. We believe in collaboration rather than free-market competition, in prevention not picking up the pieces, and accountability rather than undermining patients’ rights and guarantees.

“Labour has different priorities from this Government. We would raise taxes on the most expensive homes worth over £2 million in our country, hedge funds which avoid paying their fair share, and the tobacco firms whose products cause so much ill-health and suffering.

“This money will help pay for the investments we will make with our NHS Time to Care Fund.

“And, unlike this Government, Labour has a plan for the NHS so that it can meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have already said we will guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours. And we have already shown how our Time to Care Fund will ensure the NHS has 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home care workers and 3,000 midwives so they have the time to care for you.”

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, said: ” The tobacco industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world, and makes its money by selling an addictive product that it knows will kill half of all lifetime users.

“It’s absolutely right that they should pay more to put right the damage that they cause. Money from a levy on their profits should be used on evidence-based policies, not just to treat people who are already gravely ill from smoking-related disease, but to help people quit smoking before they get ill and to discourage young people from starting to smoke in the first place.”

Published: Saturday 18th October 2014 by The News Editor

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