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WE'RE BEING MISTREETED; EXCLUSIVE A shock report into NHS cancer treatment shows your postcode means the difference between life and death.

Byline: LACHLAN MACKINNON

A SHAMEFUL postcode lottery dramatically affects your chances of surviving cancer, as the south soaks up all the best treatment.

Patients in parts of England are given lifesaving radiotherapy while in other areas a medic admitted "they are often sent to hospices to die".

The Daily Mirror has seen a Government report based on data from England's 28 cancer networks - which co-ordinate treatment across NHS areas - showing massive variation in care offered across the country.

The best radiotherapy is all in London or within an easy commute of it.

While not all cancer patients can be successfully treated with radiotherapy, it is estimated around half do benefit.

The Radiotherapy Dataset Annual Report, by the Department of Health, suggests just 27% of eligible patients in the North of England Cancer Network area - which stretches from Workington in the west across to Hartlepool and north to Berwickupon-Tweed - get radiotherapy.

In contrast, 94% of suitable cancer patients in the North West London Cancer Network - which covers areas such as Westminster, Hounslow, Hillingdon and Harrow - receive the treatment.

The cancer death rate in Middlesbrough - an area included in the North of England Cancer Network - is a frightening 228 per 100,000 population.

But in wealthy Kensington and Chelsea - part of the North West London Cancer Network - the rate is 120 per 100,000 population.

Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, Co Durham, blamed a lack of local investment in new technology.

He said: "This postcode lottery for cancer treatment is risking the lives of cancer patients in the north.

"The Government need to address the issues prohibiting equal access to cancer treatment across England and halt their transfer of resources from the north to the south."

His call comes as a recent document by Public Health Manchester showed the north is set to lose pounds 100million in funding to tackle health inequalities, while leafy Surrey will gain pounds 61.4million, Hampshire pounds 52million and Hertfordshire pounds 39.7million.

Health select committee member Mr Morris added: "The Government needs to invest in radiotherapy equipment in the north instead of cutting funding while health inequalities are so prevalent in the region.

"Some cancer patients in the north are denied access to life-saving treatment whereas in the affluent south they have access to radiotherapy.

"We need a clinical pathway similar to that for heart attacks. Anyone who suffers an attack here is taken to one of two centres where they are given the appropriate treatment and the survival rate is fantastic.

"This was achieved because we put in the investment and we need a similar effort with cancer."

In a letter to health minister Andrew Lansley about the Dataset Report, Mr Morris added: "The report itself accepts there is no explanation for such a disparity in treatment opportunities for cancer patients."

Radiotherapy, using high energy X-rays to treat many different types of cancer, is offered to about four out of 10 cancer patients.

It can be used to destroy a tumour or to control symptoms by making it smaller and relieving pain.

A course of radiotherapy often lasts for a number of days or weeks, with most patients having five treatments a week with a break at the weekend to allow normal, non-cancerous cells to recover.

Among the most advanced forms of radiotherapy treatment are "CyberKnife" machines. Costing pounds 2.5million each, there are five in London. However, there are none outside the capital.

The private BMI Thornbury Hospital in Sheffield - which takes NHS LONDON 94% takes NHS referrals - offers Gamma Knife treatment, a specialised form of the treatment used on head and neck cancers, but is only running at 45% capacity.

Andras Kemeny, lead consultant neurosurgeon at the centre, said: "Gamma Knife radiosurgery is one of the most advanced forms of cancer treatment available today.

"It is highly effective and the least invasive for patients."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are committed to increasing the number of cancer patients who benefit from high quality radiotherapy.

"We are working with the service to help it identify the reasons for the variations and provide the support it needs to address them.

"We are also investing pounds 150million to ensure that all patients who might benefit, have access to high quality radiotherapy services, including Proton Beam Therapy."

Like CyberKnife, Proton Beam Therapy is better than conventional radiotherapy because it causes less damage to healthy tissue.

MARRIED father of one Mark Jasper is only alive because he was given cutting-edge radiotherapy treatment.

The 43-year-old salesman from Devon was given only weeks to live after being diagnosed with aggressive skin cancer two years ago, but Gamma Knife surgery shrank four tumours in his brain in March.

And last week ago medics treated another 18 brain tumours using the same treatment. He said: "I insisted on Gamma Knife. It's ridiculous where you live influences your treatment - everyone should have access to the best care no matter where they're from."
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Nov 10, 2011
Words:821
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