Monday, January 07, 2008

The Case for Health Screening

Over the border in England, the Prime Minister has been talking about changing priorities in the NHS in England and focus more on preventative medicine, particularly through 'screening'. In general, I think this is a sensible approach, but I'm not sure what Gordon Brown actually means. To what extent is it just words without any means to act on them. More screening will lead to more need for treatment, which will cost more, certainly in the short term - at a time when the Government has been cutting investment in the very areas that are being targeted.

I have a particular personal interest in screening in relation to Bowel Cancer - and raised the issue on several occasions when I was an Assembly Member. At the time, Wales was lagging behind England in its plans to introduce a screening programme. The Minister responded to my questions by making the entirely reasonable point that there is no value in a screening programme if the infrastructure is not in place to treat the problems that are discovered. And this would take a lot of money and preparation.

Now screening really matters where Bowel Cancer is concerned. The tumour can develop and grow without the owner knowing anything about it for several years - until it is too late to be effectively treated. I was lucky in that my tumour was sufficiently low down in my bowel to make its presence known at a relatively early stage. I discovered the problem and underwent a lower bowel resection which enabled a full recovery. The tumour was at Dukes Stage 1, still within the rectum wall. Every year there are many thousands who are not so lucky. The cancer has spread and often they are faced with chemotherapy treatment and an early death. An effective screening programme would save thousands of lives every year - but in the short term, it would lead to more cost.

There is an unanswerable case to change the focus of health spending towards preventative spending - but lets not pretend that this can be done without more spending in the short term. Announcements without the capacity to deliver are a con. I strongly suspect that Gordon Brown's words are no more than just that.... words without any real meaning.


Anonymous said...

Glyn I agree with you entirely on the importance of screening and early treatment,but I'm afraid that as usual,as far as Gordon Brown is concerned, these are just empty words. When it comes to anything to do with Health, this Government really has no idea, and as for us here in Mid-Wales are concerned, we might as well be on another planet.
I'm just glad that all turned out well for you, that you are here to tell the tale, you care enough about day to day issues to be prepared to make time to share your feelings on these matters, long may it continue, and come the next election let's hope that you will be returned to a position where you can make a difference!
Hope you enjoy your holiday in Barbados,I would recommend a boat trip with Captain Ron!

dowlais twp said...

Health promotion and Ill Health Prevention hould be th ebackbone of the NHS never mind if it is England, Wales, Scotland or NI.
Sadly the only thing we have done is fire fight illness and you are amongst those lucky enough to have a GP and surgeons who with early foresight caught your cancer.
The NHS needs more money and time to get prevention/promotion in place, we've spent 60 years on it and it may take another 60.
Enjoy the holiday

Anonymous said...

dowlais twp

I'm afraid the NHS isn't in the mess it's in because of lack of money, it's lack of common sense and total waste of resources. Why pay GPs more money to do less work?
Why give give £15 million a year to The Improvement Foundation, a not for profit organisation, set up under Labour to investigate ways of improving service and saving money, yet they themselves see fit to squander £40,000 on a recent event in Blackpool with evening entertainment including 'drag queen bingo'. A Christmas party in London cost another £20,000,and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
I could go on all night about the waste of money.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

I can understand where you are coming from on this issue Glyn.

My grandfather from Llandbradach (but settled in Bedwas, where he and my Nana ran the White Hart, and before that were stewards of the Conservative Party club) ... my grandfather got bowel cancer and after a while it got him -despite major surgery at CRI (the former Cardiff Royal Infirmary) cancers cropped up elsewhere including in his neck. Cancer is a beast worth screening for.

Glyn Davies said...

anon and Christopher - we are all influenced by our personal experiences. The only reason I'm still alive is that my tumour was found at an early stage. It had not spread (to the liver, which is the usual next stop). By not screening, the Government is, in effect saying that thousands of people with treatable tumours are going to be left until the disease has developed and recovery is much less likely. There can be no better case for screening than in respect of Bowel Cancer.

dowlais twp - which is why I support the general approach Gordon Brown was talking about. The question raised is whether it was just words.

anon - keeping a lid on waste and profligacy in a big organisation is a constant challenge - and always will be.