A new survey reveals that, over the last 20 years, the largest increases in spending on health of any developed country have been in England and Wales, and the two nations have also seen the largest reduction in cancer deaths overall except the Netherlands.

The study, published in the on-line journal ecancermedicalscience, found that health spending England and Wales increased 66% over the period, compared to an average rise of 39% amongst other major developed countries, whilst average male cancer deaths (15-74 years) in the two countries decreased by 25% compared to an average of 12%. Men in England and Wales now have a lower cancer death rate than men in the USA, say the research team, which is led by Professor Colin Pritchard at Bournemouth University.

Based on World Health Organisation (WHO) figures for 1979-1980 and 2000-2, the findings suggest that, whilst the UK is still lagging behind the US and most other countries’ spend on health, it appears to be doing more with proportionately less, say the researchers.

The reduction in cancer deaths is influenced by increased expenditure including the use of newer anti-cancer drugs, they suggest. However, they also point out that, despite the recent 9.3% increase in health expenditures in England and Wales, it remains below the average, which is 9.85%, and that only Japan and Spain amongst the major developed countries have spent less. Nevertheless, they say, the correlation between a reduction in cancer deaths and increased national expenditures on health should encourage governments to respond to the challenge.

In England, National Health Service (NHS) spending on cancer services increased from £3.4 billion in 2003-04 to £4.35 billion in 2006-07, and by 2012,” our cancer services can and should become among the best in the world,” according to the government’s Cancer Reform Strategy, published last December.

The Welsh Assembly government is currently working on a 2008-2011 strategy for cancer, similar to those in place in England and Wales. A key requirement of NHS Wales is to achieve full compliance with the National Cancer Standards by March 2009.

- Earlier this year, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and Pharma Partners pointed out in a report that UK spending on cancer medicine currently stands at just 60% of the European average. They estimated that, at 2006 rates, additional investment of £403 million a year would be necessary for the UK to achieve the existing average per capita expenditure on cancer medicines in 11 comparable European countries.