The BMJ Today: Good figures, bad figures, and no figures

New statistics on The BMJ‘s website today show improved cancer survival rates in the UK. Half of patients diagnosed with cancer today will survive for at least 10 years, whereas only a quarter would have done so 40 years ago, figures published by the charity Cancer Research UK show. 

This will be particularly interesting to UK GPs who were blamed, many felt extremely unfairly, by BMJ columnist Nigel Hawkes for the UK’s poor cancer survival rate.

Hawkes said the GP gatekeepers were turning too many patients away from the gates, and suggested that patients might be well advised either to turn up at emergency departments for a diagnosis, or, if they could afford it, go and see a specialist privately, before returning for treatment on the NHS. His article produced a storm of protest.

One respondent Dr Trefor Roscoe, a GP from Sheffield, suggested that the UK is a victim of its own success because the NHS keeps very good statistics, while other countries’ stats are much less reliable.

Today the chairman of the BMA Mark Porter warns that the days of reliable statistics in the UK might be threatened as the service is broken up into thousands of small providers. His remarks come in the BMA’s reply to a report from the Public Accounts Committee, which says that statistics on how long patients wait for treatment are not reliable.

Porter thinks the reliability could get worse. He raises the question of how easy it will be for GP commissioners to know how long it is taking for their patient to be seen when, instead of referring most of them to the local district general hospital, they are obliged to refer them to a myriad of providers—private, public, voluntary, and any mixture of the three. He said: “Ministers need to ensure data collection is consistent and reliable. However a rise in the number of private providers and the fragmentation of services, resulting from the government’s top down reorganisation, has made this harder, not easier to achieve.”

Annabel Ferriman is news editor for The BMJ.