Failure to treat elderly cancer sufferers ‘is costing 14,000 lives each year’
Don’t get old in Britain
Up to 40 elderly cancer sufferers are dying needlessly every day because they are being denied the best treatments, a damning report warns.
Patients over the age of 70 are routinely being ‘written off’ by doctors who assume they are too frail for surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Such discrimination has led to Britain having one of the worst cancer survival rates in the Western world, according to Macmillan Cancer Support.
The charity estimates that if the treatment of older patients matched that on offer in the U.S., as many as 14,000 lives could be saved every year. Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan, described it as an ‘unacceptable act of discrimination’.
In the report, he points out that while cancer rates are vastly improving across most age groups, they have actually worsened in patients aged 85 and above.
And despite major advances in diagnosis and treatment, the survival chances for patients over the age of 75 have only increased by a fraction.
Mr Devane said: ‘Writing people off as too old for treatment is utterly shameful. We have a moral duty to treat people as individuals and give them the best chance of beating cancer, regardless of their age.
‘The NHS and social care providers must wake up to the specific issues older people face and ensure treatment decisions are based on their overall health, not just their date of birth.’
The report warns that many doctors are wary of offering elderly patients surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy as they are more likely to suffer debilitating side effects, including sickness and extreme tiredness. The body is also more prone to infection which can cause death.
Many doctors are also often worried about putting patients forward for treatment if they have illnesses such as dementia and diabetes in case their drugs or the condition itself causes complications.
But the report urges doctors to look at patients’ health and physical fitness rather than their date of birth. It points out that while one 78-year-old may be bed-bound, another might be running half-marathons.
Figures cited in the report show that only 36 per cent of cancer patients in England over the age of 75 are likely to survive their illness. This compares with 49 per cent in Sweden, 45 per cent in Germany and 40 per cent across Europe as a whole.
The most recent figures show that between 1995-97 and 2003-05, cancer mortality rates dropped by 17 per cent for those under 75. By contrast, they fell by only 6 per cent in the 75-84 age group and they actually increased by 2 per cent among the over-85s.
Professor Riccardo Audisio, a breast cancer surgeon at St Helens Hospital in the Wirral, admitted: ‘We have huge evidence of under-treatment for these patients.
‘It is despicable to neglect, not to offer, not to even go near to the best treatment option only on the simple basis of the patient’s age. This has been a horrible mistake that, particularly in the UK, we have suffered from.’
Last year, research found that only 54 per cent of breast cancer patients over 70 were given surgery compared with 85 per cent of younger patients.
British council worker faces sack for flag tribute to soldiers… just weeks after it flies the rainbow banner for gay rights
Flying a flag at half mast is a normal sign of mourning. Attacking someone for doing so is incredibly crass
A council worker could face the sack after he lowered the town hall flag in memory of six British soldiers who died in Afghanistan – despite it proudly flying a rainbow banner in support of gay rights just weeks before.
Having seen Bassetlaw District Council in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, show its support for good causes and agreeing to fly the symbolic rainbow flag last month, the unnamed worker lowered the council’s own flag to half mast as a gesture to the soldiers.
But the employee, an ex-serviceman himself, was served with disciplinary papers alleging ‘gross misconduct’.
It is thought he is also being quizzed for failing to carry out a ‘thorough health and safety assessment’ before lowering the flag on Tuesday, the day in which the bodies of the six soldiers killed in a car bomb were flown home.
Those close to the employee, who is said to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder following his own deployment, are now concerned about the impact of his reprimand. Speaking to the Sun a friend of the employee, said: ‘This is an outrage. ‘The council knows about his stress disorder.’
Decisions about when it is appropriate to lower the flag continue to be shrouded in confusion as the flag of the local Mercian Regiment was at half-mast over the town hall yesterday – in honour of a soldier killed on Wednesday.
The deaths of Sgt Nigel Coupe, 33, Cpl Jake Hartley, 20, Pte Anthony Frampton, 20, Pte Christopher Kershaw, 19, Pte Daniel Wade, 20, and Pte Daniel Wilford, 21, were the single biggest loss of British life in Afghanistan since 2006 and took the total number of British military fatalities since 2001 to more than 400.
Their bodies were flown back to Britain early this week and in Oxon more than 2,000 people turned out to pay their respects.
Five of the men were from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment and a sixth was attached from 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment.
A spokesman for the council wouldn’t be drawn on the incident but said: ‘We have a strong association with the Mercians.
‘It is policy to lower the flag in the tragic event of loss of life.’
Britons are ignorant of Christianity and the Classics, says Sister Wendy
Sister Wendy, the nun-turned-television-presenter, has warned that modern-day ignorance about Christianity and the Classics has left people unable to appreciate much of Western art.
She says she regrets the public’s lack of understanding of the Gospel stories, and adds that as a consequence they cannot grasp the meaning of much of the canon of European painting.
Sister Wendy Beckett, who presented a popular series on art during the 1990s, says: “In the past everybody knew these stories, although they didn’t necessarily live the spirit of them. “Everybody used to know the Greek myths and most people had a smattering of Latin, now they don’t.”
She adds that the widespread lack of knowledge meant art historians were forced to fill in basic gaps, without which many paintings – such as those portraying the annunciation of Christ’s birth to the young Mary, or Christ washing the disciples’ feet on the eve of his execution – lose the central part of their meaning.
She points out that this phenomenon has coincided with a huge increase in the number of people attending art galleries, and says she fears that their experience is poorer because of their lack of religious understanding.
“This country has been built on the Christian faith – it’s our heritage, whether people believe it or not. They have a right to know what happened and it does sadden me [that they don’t],” she says.
Sister Wendy speaks about the issue in an Arena television documentary, extracts of which were shown for the first time at the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday.
The BBC programme shows how she now uses the great religious paintings to retell the Gospel stories, in the hope of reacquainting her audience with their true meaning.
She also tells how an early experience led the young Wendy Beckett to devote her life to her religious faith. Sitting under the kitchen table at her parents home in South Africa at the age of just four, she says, she felt the overwhelming presence of God. “I felt protected by him. It happened just once, but that was enough to last a lifetime,” she says.
Now aged 82, and unable to attend the Oxford festival in person because of ill health, she says she is looking forward to her death.
In one particularly touching scene of the documentary, to be broadcast later this year, Sister Wendy visits the monastery graveyard where she hopes to be buried. “I’ve had the most incredibly happy life,” she says.
Schools are ‘last bastion’ of traditional values in Britain
Feeble though they are
Schools are the “last bastions” of traditional values in a culture where children are increasingly faced with poor role models, school leaders said today.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said that today’s youngsters need to be taught to sort out their differences in a “rational and restrained” way.
At the same time they are surrounded by TV programmes, such as soaps, that show people constantly shouting at each other and reality shows that suggest there are “quick” ways to become successful.
Speaking at ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham, general secretary Brian Lightman said: “Children are faced with a lot of different role models these days, not all of which are the most positive. They see examples on TV, in celebrity culture, of people not speaking the right way and not interacting in a way we would expect people to.
“In many ways schools are the last bastions of those traditional values. “We do assert old fashioned standards of discipline and we do that unashamedly because we do see it as our job to educate children in that way.”
He said that soap operas show “people shouting at each other, using very, very emotive language, everything’s very dramatic, histrionic.”
Schools try to teach pupils to “understand people’s differences in a much more rational and perhaps restrained way,” Mr Lightman added.
In her speech to the conference, ASCL president Joan McVittie suggested that schools are teaching many pupils good values because they are not learning them at home. “Many young people learn their values in schools,” she said.
“Sadly some of their parents are unable to provide guidance and often the values provided by their peer groups takes precedence over all else. “This is a huge responsibility for all of us and top of the responsibility of educating.
“It is a great deal to ask of us, and not neatly pinned down and packaged in sound bites and performance tables. “And yet this is what we constantly try to do and for which – perhaps the most important part of our job – we gain so little credit.”
She added: “So not only do we have to teach about values and responsibility; we have to try and understand the context in which our young people are living and help them back on to the right path when they fall by the wayside.”
Mrs McVittie raised concerns that TV talent or reality shows promote a “quick fix” in terms of how to be successful.
“We’ve run an assembly looking at statistics of how many people are successful on the X Factor and then at the same time running the statistics on the relationship between attendance in school, how that impacts on overall GCSE results, and how that then leads on to earning power later on in life.
“We try to work students through the fact that, actually, it’s mostly through hard work that you’re successful and attain the things that you need. “Very few people are actually able to walk on to the X Factor and achieve that instant success.”
As well as running assemblies on values, many schools also teach lessons where pupils work through various scenarios and discuss how they would respond to them.
Mrs McVittie, who is headteacher of Woodside High School in Wood Green, north London, close to where rioting took place last summer, said: “When we talk to our students about rights and responsibilities, what they have to remember is that their rights are not entitled to override those of everybody else – they have a responsibility to think of other people.”
Mr Lightman said pupils have to learn that sometimes they have to “restrain your feelings, that you can’t just sound off every time you’re a little bit angry”.
“I think that these things are desperately important in terms of employability skills. Because you’re going to have to work with all kinds of people, to learn how to work with people who you may not want to have as your best friend.”
In her speech, Mrs McVittie told delegates she had experienced behaviour similar to that seen in last summer’s riots when she worked in Moss Side, Manchester, in the 1980s.
“The 2011 riots had a very different feel to them,” she said. “Watching television and seeing young adults looting and carrying home their spoils made me wonder what has happened in our society.”
She added: “I was worried in case my own students had been caught up – perhaps affected by peer pressure and carried away with the intoxicating excitement of the moment.
“Fortunately I discovered that none of my students had taken part. The local area was devastated and the impact mostly on our young people had been to frighten them.”
Mrs McVittie also warned that it has become “fashionable to criticise school and college leaders for all the ills in society”.
“This is wearing and risky: if we aren’t careful it will drive good people out of the profession.” Mrs McVittie said there have been “many times” that she has almost walked away from teaching because of such criticism. “We must support our colleagues, particularly when they are experiencing hard times,” she said.
Mrs McVittie also told delegates: “Nothing short of walking on water is expected of us on a daily basis.
“Expectations – whether they be from the Government, the media or the Chief Inspector – have never been higher. And the price of failure has never been greater.
“And yet… school leaders are right up there with doctors at the top of the list of people trusted by the public, while our political masters languish at the bottom with estate agents and bankers.”
British scientists develop 80p-a-day pill that can slow progress of osteoarthritis to some degree
Even a little helps
A pill that slows the progression of crippling arthritis has been developed by British scientists.
The 80p a day costing treatment has been found to reduce the damage caused to knee joints by osteoarthritis by a third. Studies have also shown that it drastically lowers pain and improves patient’s movement.
Oxford scientists behind the treatment believe it may be available on the NHS within the next year.
Around eight million people in Britain suffer from osteoarthritis and 140,000 hip and knee replacements are performed on the NHS as a result of the illness. It causes the cartilage lining the bones to wear away which leads to damage to the joints, particularly the knee and hip. There is no cure at present and patients with mild symptoms are normally given exercises or painkillers. Those with more severe forms of the disease may need hip or knee replacements.
Scientists at the University of Oxford and University of Southampton carried out a trial on 1,683 patients with osteoarthritis that had caused damage to their knee.
Half were given this new pill called Protelosa and the other half a placebo. Over the next three years the scientists measured their pain, their ability to move the knee joints and any deterioration of the cartilage.
They found that those on the pills suffered an average of a third less damage to the cartilage. So if they were taking them for three years the progression of the disease would be slowed by one year.
The pills contains the chemical strontium ranelate which is thought to encourage the body to produce cartilage.
Professor Cyrus Cooper who presented his findings at the European Congress on Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis in France said: ‘This is a major breakthrough.
‘Osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating condition, and for over 20 years we have been searching for a treatment that would allow us to alter the course of the disease, rather than just manage the symptoms.
‘The results today are it, and could totally change the way we treat osteoarthritis.
‘For the first time we have a treatment that can slow the development of this debilitating disease and could reduce or even eliminate the need for expensive and painful joint replacement surgery.’
The drug is already used to treat osteoporosis – thinning of the bones.
But it is expected to be licensed by the drugs watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for use on arthritis patients within the next few months.
After that the NHS rationing body NICE will consider whether it should be available on the NHS.
But as the drug is so cheap and it has been found to be so effective, the scientists are confident it will be given the green light.