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RCS President comments on Shadow Health Secretary's announcement on cancer treatments

09 Dec 2014

Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons has commented on an announcement by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham today, promising that if Labour win the next election, they will create a Cancer Treatments Fund to finance all types of cancer treatment – including advanced types of surgery.

Mr Burnham pledged that a Labour Government would commission the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) and Cancer Research UK to investigate older people’s access to surgery and make recommendations to ensure there is equality of access.

The government set up the Cancer Drugs Fund to give patients access to new cancer drugs.

Mr Burnham indicated his intention to set up a Cancer Treatments Fund to improve access to all forms of cancer treatments, including surgery.

Commenting on the announcement Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Surgery has the potential to save life. For patients who have cancer, investment in the latest technological advances for treatment is vital.

“We continue to be concerned that some older patients may not have access to common operations which are known to be effective in either prolonging life – such as surgery for breast cancer – or improving quality of life, for example total hip replacement.

“Patients have the right to expect that medical decisions are based on their overall health and clinical needs, not on assumptions about their age. We believe further work is required to understand older people’s access to surgery and the care pathways they are offered.  All doctors and commissioners working in the NHS have a responsibility to ensure decisions they make about a patient’s treatment are based on clinical need and not a patient’s age.”

In July, the College published a report - Access All Ages 2: variations in access to surgical treatment among older people – which examined surgery rates across England’s 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), for six common procedures which are known to be effective in older people.

It revealed there was widespread variation in the rates of surgery for people aged over 65 and 75, depending on where they live and that a number of CCGs have very few people in the over 75 age group who have received surgery for the procedures analysed – including for breast excision, gall stones, hernia repair, colorectal incision and knee replacements.

Last week, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) published a report which found that younger people were more likely to undergo surgery to treat 19 types of cancer.

However, more research is needed to find out why older people may not be undergoing surgery.  It may be for example, because some patients do not wish to have an operation, or because they have a serious disease which means that surgery may not be the safest option for them. 

Speaking at the Britain Against Cancer conference, Mr Burnham told the audience:

“The next Labour Government will launch an immediate programme of work in this area, led by Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Surgeons, to understand what’s happening in practice and make recommendations on how we can ensure equal access to surgery.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit

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