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Cancer has the fear factor in general election row

In its latest party election broadcast, Labour has gone decidedly negative on the tricky issue of GP cancer referrals. Could it backfire, asks PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny

In its latest party election broadcast, Labour has gone decidedly negative on the tricky issue of GP cancer referrals. Could it backfire, asks PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny



It's a chilling piece of video. As a suspected cancer patient and his worried wife sit in the car, an officious-looking man in suit and civil service haircut raps on the window.

‘I'm afraid you can't see your specialist this afternoon,' he tells them.

The patient looks aghast.

‘But I don't have weeks or months…' he says desperately.

Apparently undeterred by the row after it reportedly sent a targeted mailshot to cancer patients warning their lives could be at risk under a Tory government, Labour have again gone on the attack over the Conservatives' cancer plans.

‘The Conservatives would end the right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of referral by your GP,' the voiceover to their latest ad warns, over some rather unsubtly menacing music.

Clearly this is an issue – perhaps the only real health issue in this general election campaign – which Labour believe has some mileage on the doorstep.

And it's not just the Labour party who have attacked the Conservatives on cancer, of course. In the very first week of the campaign, the King's Fund caused a stir when it challenged what it called the Tories' 'sleight of hand' over the sums behind its pledge to boost funding for cancer drugs that are rejected by NICE.

It's not just the Conservatives who have feeling the heat though. Some GPs already reacted sceptically to the Labour party's pledge for a ‘massive expansion' in GP cancer diagnostics, to be rolled out largely through GP-led health centres.

And now one GP, who chooses to remain anonymous but claims to have voted for all the major political parties before, has written a detailed rebuttal of the latest ad for the high-profile Tory blogger Iain Dale.

The truth is, the effects of this target have been analysed and found to have achieved the opposite effect. Various medical journals have researched the impact of the 2 week wait and have shown it to be counterproductive. This is for the following reasons:

• The majority of people eventually diagnosed with cancer do not meet the strict referral criteria for the 2 week wait – and they are having to wait even longer because of the 2 week waiters taking priority.

• In addition, the wait for results of diagnostics, scans etc and the clinic appointments to discuss them and the start of treatment are also waiting because of the priority for the 2 week wait.

• The main delays in cancer treatment occur at the following stages: 1) delay between getting symptoms and deciding to go to the GP; 2) delay between the initial 2 week appointment and the commencement of treatment. The time between the GP referring and the patient being seen are much much less than these times.

So, watch the full ad and judge for yourself. Fair comment on a genuine difference in health policy between the two parties? Or scare tactics playing on voters' fears? Let us know what you think below.

The Labour video: A nightmare on your street

PulseToday editor Steve Nowottny

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