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Party leaders clash over cancer funding

By Steve Nowottny

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have attacked each other's plans for improving cancer outcomes in the first televised leaders' election debate.

Access to cancer drugs and diagnostics was the focus of the leaders' exchanges on plans for the NHS, with the Conservative leader criticising the UK's death rate from cancer as being ‘worse than Bulgaria's'.

Gordon Brown said cancer treatment would be a top health priority for a new Labour government, with patients guaranteed access to a diagnostic test within one week and a cancer specialist within two.

‘David will not give you the guarantee that you'll see a cancer specialist in two weeks or the guarantee that you'll have a GP in the evening and weekends,' he said. ‘These are personal guarantees in the NHS Constitution that we will give.'

Despite making seven-days-a-week access to a local GP the centrepiece of the Conservatives' manifesto launch earlier this week, Mr Cameron chose not to comment at all on GP access – but hit back hard on access to cancer treatment.

He said: ‘What Gordon Brown is not telling you with the situation of cancer drugs and cancer outcomes is that after all the things he's talked about, all the money that's gone in, our death rate from cancer is actually worse than Bulgaria's.'

Mr Cameron highlighted the Conservatives' plans to widen access to cancer drugs, which included a pledge to spend £200m on cancer drugs.

‘I had a man in my constituency called Clive Stone who had kidney cancer who came to see me with seven others. Tragically two of them have died because they couldn't get the drug Sutent that they wanted on the market, that people knew was a good drug.'

'That's a scandal in our country today. So stop the national insurance rise, use that money for the cancer drugs and help people so our outcomes can be amongst the best in Europe rather than sadly amongst some of the worst.'

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, meanwhile, concentrated on efficiency savings he warned the NHS will be forced to make.

‘This is a phoney debate, we're pretending there are somehow billions and squillions of pounds around that we can continue to pour into our NHS,' he said.

‘I want to see for instance strategic health authorities… stripped away altogether, and use that money on the frontline NHS services which are so important to us.'

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