British cancer patients denied ‘last hope’ robot surgery
You have to rely on private charity if you don’t have a lot of money. That was how things were before the NHS was created and which the NHS was supposed to obviate
Cancer patients are being denied a pioneering treatment that offers their only hope of survival – even though millions of pounds have been spent on the technology behind it.
Doctors referred Lesley Whiting [above], 56, from Sussex, for a robotic radiosurgery procedure called Cyberknife, which is widely used across the world, but only became available on the NHS last year.
She was selected for the procedure because after treatment for advanced breast cancer, three tumours were found in her skull. Without the radiosurgery, she would have around 18 months to live, said her consultant, who explained that conventional radiotherapy was not an option because it would damage the brain.
But NHS bureaucrats refused to fund the treatment, which costs the health service around £10,000 per treatment- despite the fact almost £9 million has been spent buying the robotic technology for three NHS hospitals.
Health service officials have refused the treatment to every patient referred for it in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, while Primary Care Trusts in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex have said they will only allow funding in “exceptional” cases. In total, fewer than 30 of 150 PCTs have now funded the radical treatment, with just 26 patients receiving Cyberknife at an NHS hospital.
Doctors pioneering the treatment say it offers the only hope to some cancer patients with tumours which are otherwise inoperable, due to their proximity to major blood vessels or sensitive organs. It can be used for a range of cancers, including lung and bone disease.
Mrs Whiting managed to obtain funding from a medical charity, enabling her to undergo the procedure at a private London clinic last October. Since then, the crippling headaches she had been suffering have stopped. Last week scans showed no traces of the tumours in her skull and doctors are optimistic that her survival could be extended by at least five years, or that she could even be cured.
The former charity worker said: “The doctors had told me this was my only option, there was no other way to remove the tumours. “When I found out the NHS wouldn’t fund the treatment, I just thought – I am going to die. It was terrifying, I was just devastated.” She said: “I found it hard to take in; my husband and I have two children, I want to see them settled and graduated from university, and hopefully have grandchildren.”
After securing charity funding to pay for her own treatment, she has launched a petition to tackled the postcode lottery in funding for it. She is angry that while the Coalition Government has pledged to fund expensive drug treatment for cancer patients, via a £200 million annual fund, those whose only hope lies in the radical procedure have nowhere to turn.
Mrs Whiting said: “ It just doesn’t seem fair that this isn’t being covered by the fund – Cyberknife costs far less than many of the drugs that are being funded, and it is only offered to patients who have no other option.”
The Cyberknife works by sending multiple beams of high dose radiation from a wide variety of angles using a robotic arm. X-ray cameras monitor the patient’s breathing and re-position the radiotherapy beam in order to minimise damage to healthy tissue. This accuracy enables tumours to be treated that are in difficult or dangerous to treat positions, such as near the brain and spinal cord.
The treatment, which has few side effects, is widely used in many countries, because it can treat patients who otherwise could not be helped, but there is limited research about how long it can extend survival.
The treatment has been offered by NHS Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, in Middlesex since last August, after the £2.7 million machine was paid for by charitable donations. Yet with PCTs across the East of England refusing to fund routine requests, and those in Kent, Sussex and Surrey rejecting all referrals, just 26 NHS patients – mostly from London – have been funded for Cyberknife at the centre.
Consultant clinical oncologist and the Trust’s clinical chair for cancer services, Dr Peter Ostler, said the treatment was the only hope for some patients, who could otherwise not be treated, either because of the siting of the tumour, or because they were too sick to undergo other treatments. He said: “It means that we can treat some patients that would be very difficult to support through conventional means, as well as offering therapy to others that can be given over much shorter periods of time than is the case currently. “Also those patients whose underlying condition means that they may be too unwell to undergo surgery may benefit from treatment with our new CyberKnife.”
Fundraisers for two more NHS cancer centres, at Barts and the London NHS Trust, and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have just spent more than £7 million on two more machines, which will begin operating this summer.
Patients in Scotland have also been refused funding for Cyberknife. Tarek Ramzi, 56, from Fife, a former chef who works as a carer for his wife, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, since when it has spread to his lymph nodes and brain. A private consultant in London recommended Cyberknife, but NHS Fife has refused to pay for it. Now the couple are trying to raise funds locally, to meet the £22,000 cost of having the procedure privately.
Mr Ramzi said: “I feel so let down – I don’t believe these people should have the right to decide whether I live or die.” His wife Senga said: “We feel so frustrated that they are letting the cancer eat away at him. It was the only hope we had. “When we heard about it, we though they were throwing us a lifebelt, but now we are stranded.”
Britain’s prisons must be tougher, says survey
The Coalition’s law and order policies have failed to win public backing, according to a major new survey which found widespread support for tougher punishments. The research found a huge majority of the public do not back the community sentences which Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, wants to see used instead of short prison sentences.
The poll, the largest piece of independent research into public thinking on crime and punishment since the General Election last year, suggests little support for community punishments and demand for tougher prison conditions. The poll of more than 2,000 adults, 1,000 victims of crime and 500 police officers found:
* Eight out of 10 people believe community sentences are a “soft punishment”, while among police officers the figure was nine out of 10.
* Asked about high reoffending rates by criminals who have served short jail terms, two thirds of the public thought the best solution was to “make prison life harder, to make it more of a deterrent to committing further crimes”.
* Six out of 10 interviewees agreed that rehabilitation was a “soft option that tries to make excuses for offenders”, while only four out of 10 said it was a “hard-headed practical way of trying to reduce reoffending”.
* Only 13 per cent of the public believed the Coalition was being tougher on crime than Labour, with 23 per cent saying it was less tough and the remainder said it was about the same.
The research was commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, who said that it was a warning that the Conservative party risks “undermining an important part of its appeal” by failing to deliver on law and order.
Mr Clarke’s criminal justice Green Paper, published in December, proposed replacing short jail terms with “tougher” community punishments but the research found there was widespread support for sending criminals to jail even for short periods.
It abandoned the “prison works” policy put forward by then Home Secretary Michael Howard in 1993 – in a speech written by his then adviser, David Cameron – and followed by the Conservatives until the General Election.
Mr Clarke has repeatedly spoken of the need for “rigorously enforced community sentences that punish offenders” instead of prison sentences, as well as claiming the public’s fear of crime was exaggerated. ‘The public are still very, very worried about lawlessness,” he said in June 2010. “People still feel fear of crime – probably to a greater extent than they actually face it.’
But those views are challenged by the research. The poll report said: “There was an overwhelming view in the groups that sentencing for convicted criminals in Britain is too soft.
“If offenders went to prison at all their sentence would be too short; they would then serve only half the time they were sentenced to because of the cost or lack of space; and the time they did spend inside would be much too comfortable to constitute proper punishment or a deterrent to reoffending.”
One member of the public told researchers: “In the good old days you went to prison and it was a punishment. Now there is TV, a gym, you can get drugs, you can get whatever.”
Many interviewees expressed concern about criminal justice reforms outlined by Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, which include sending fewer people to prison and offering more generous sentence discounts to criminals who plead guilty.
One police officer told the researchers Mr Clarke was “wrong” and added: “The only way you’ll protect the public from the criminals who constantly reoffend is to lock them up.”
Another interviewee said: “Has he ever had anything happen to him? He’d want them in prison.”
The panel was heavily against giving judges more discretion to decide appropriate sentences, as put forward by Mr Clarke, while a proposed 50 per cent sentence discount for pleading guilty drew “incredulous laughter” from focus groups.
“However, some participants saw some value in community punishments that brought tangible benefits to society,” said the report. “Several also felt that an element of public humiliation, such as uniforms which made it clear to passers-by what they were doing and why, could be effective.”
One police officer told researchers how a “community payback” scheme he had observed was “laughable”. The officer said offenders who were supposed to be painting railings around a churchyard were seen “smoking and heckling members of the public”, while one offender wrote graffiti on the pavement with paint provided by his supervisors.
Among the police officers interviewed, who were largely drawn from the rank and file but did include 50 at the level of “inspector or above”, 43 per cent said they had often been involved with prosecutions where judges failed to hand down a custodial sentence where one was merited. A further 42 per cent said this had happened occasionally and only 9 per cent said it had never happened.
Claim: Feminism widened poverty gap and set social mobility back decades
Feminism has set back the cause of social mobility by decades, a senior minister has claimed. Universities Minister David Willetts said feminist policies had inadvertently halted the improvement in the life chances of working-class men and widened the gap between rich and poor. He said feminism was the ‘single biggest factor’ in the decline in social mobility since the 1960s, adding: ‘Feminism has trumped egalitarianism.’
Mr Willetts was speaking ahead of next week’s launch of the Government’s flagship social mobility strategy, which will lay out a raft of measures designed to increase the life chances of those from less well-off backgrounds.
Grammar school-educated Mr Willetts, one of the Conservative Party’s leading thinkers on social mobility, said the main beneficiaries of feminism had been middle-class women, who enjoyed educational opportunities denied to their mothers. He said he did not want to see the gains made by middle-class women reversed, but added that policymakers had a duty to ensure any gains in social mobility were spread more evenly in the future.
Ministers will publish detailed research next week showing that social mobility has stagnated for almost 40 years. New indicators are expected to show that almost every measure of social mobility – from achievements at school to job prospects in later life – has either stalled or gone into reverse.
Asked to identify the cause of the decline, Mr Willetts said: ‘One of the things that happened over that period was that the entirely admirable transformation of opportunities for women meant that with a lot of the expansion of education in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the first beneficiaries were the daughters of middle-class families who had previously been excluded from educational opportunities.
‘And if you put that with what is called assortative mating – that well-educated women marry well-educated men – this transformation of opportunities for women ended up magnifying social divides rather than narrowing them. ‘It is such delicate territory because it is not a bad thing that women had these opportunities.
‘But I think it certainly widened the gap in household incomes because you suddenly had two-earner couples, both of whom were well educated, compared with often workless households where nobody was educated. ‘So I do personally think that the feminist revolution in its first-round effects, was probably the key factor. Feminism trumped egalitarianism.’
Mr Willetts dismissed suggestions that the destruction of the grammar school system was a major factor. Grammar schools offered a route out of poverty for the post-war generations, but Mr Willetts suggested they had been hijacked by the middle classes, with entry policies that were ‘not particularly broadly based’.
Shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper reacted angrily to the comments. She said: ‘The idea that working women are responsible for persistent child poverty or youth unemployment in disadvantaged areas is just shocking. ‘David Willetts should quickly withdraw this rubbish and face up to the real problems his policies are causing for young people and women who want to get on.’
Lefties, not Etonians, are closing British libraries
Zadie Smith is wrong about libraries – and the BBC were wrong to let her broadcast her attack on the ‘cuts’, writes Simon Heffer
Just as some of us believe in Father Christmas or the Lone Ranger, I have long believed there is no institutional political bias in the BBC. I have made many programmes for the corporation over the past 20 or so years and have never encountered any blatant example of it. I know some senior BBC executives who I think might even vote Conservative – not that that signifies a freedom from Leftism these days. However, one contribution to the Today programme this week made me think I might be wrong.
It was the piece-to-microphone by Zadie Smith, a novelist, about the closure of libraries. For five minutes she was allowed to broadcast an attack on the “cuts”, and the effect they were having on these institutions. She did so with her assertions, prejudices and misinformation going unchallenged.
Miss Smith happens to be a woman, a Leftist and a member of an ethnic minority. I fear there are some people in the BBC for whom that formula signals the need to suspend disbelief. No man of the Right from the ethnic majority would ever be given such a platform to make such assertions. The editor responsible should be the subject of the most rigorous inquiry, to say the least.
Miss Smith and I would agree that libraries are good. We would disagree about why they are closing. She says it is because the Cabinet is full of people from “Eton and Harrow” who simply don’t care. Not a single member of the Cabinet went to Harrow. Only one, the Prime Minister, went to Eton. Two other OEs, Sir George Young and Oliver Letwin, attend Cabinet but are not members of it. The BBC seems not to mind that she says these dishonest and unpleasant things. Had someone spoken in the same way about homosexuals, Muslims or even Jews, the world would have ended.
Libraries are closing not because of “cuts”, or because of a callous, privately educated clique whose bookshelves are so capacious and well-stocked that they have no need of public provision – they are closing because mischievous Leftist councils of the sort supported by Miss Smith choose to close them rather than make savings elsewhere.
If you sack diversity officers or lesbian outreach workers, that merely makes sense, since the productivity and social value of such jobs are minimal. If you close a library, you harm children, the elderly and the intellectually curious poor who are already betrayed by our dismal education system. The political point made is therefore far more satisfying. (Miss Smith seemed to think another purpose of libraries was to be somewhere from which her mother could steal books, but let that pass.)
The BBC is making “cuts”, because the Government feels the revenue from generous licence-fee settlements past has been squandered or badly deployed. The BBC should not have diversified into the guide books business nor given an £18 million contract to one rather ordinary presenter. There long ago ceased to be a link between funding and quality in the BBC: look at the job of informing, educating and entertaining that Radio 3 does on very little money.
So the BBC is touchy about “cuts”, and Miss Smith was a suitably high-profile voice to articulate this anger. But she was also wrong. There is another side to the coin, and in the interests of impartiality I trust we shan’t need to wait too long before seeing or hearing it.