A new report by lung cancer charity The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation has revealed that patients are receiving inconsistent care across the UK and that services are largely failing to improve.

The charity’s latest Report Card – an annual check of performance across key aspects of lung cancer services – has unveiled that a postcode lottery of care still persists as patients living in certain areas of the country, or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, are getting a poorer level of care than those from other regions or with a higher social status.

Furthermore, the charity’s assessment of lung cancer management and patient care has found that, out of eight categories investigated – including equity of care and provision of specialist nurses – only two showed any improvement since the first Report Card was published two years ago, and that some even scored worse.

Currently lung cancer survival rates in the UK are amongst the worst in Europe - only Malta, which has a five-year survival rate of 4.6%, scores lower than Scotland (8.2%) and England (8.4%), while at the other end of the spectrum, 16.8% of lung cancer patients in Iceland are still alive after five years. This disparity is “completely unacceptable”, the charity says, given that the disease is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in the country.

In addition, the RCLCF has slammed the government for the “woefully insufficient” funds being directed towards lung cancer research, which, it points out, has remained flat since 2007 despite the fact that 34,000 patients in the UK are losing their lives to the disease and there are 38,000 new cases every year.

According to Rosemary Gillespie, RCLCF president, the Report Card shows that lung cancer services in England and Wales “still remain low on the government’s agenda”, and she says it is “vital that the government now prioritises improving all aspects of lung cancer services and makes a stronger commitment to patients”.

Hilary Jackson, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, agreed that more research is needed to find new ways of fighting the disease, but stressed that as well developing novel treatments prevention is also vital, as 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. "It's crucial that we call on government to keep tobacco out of sight and out of mind to prevent young people from starting smoking in the first place," she stressed.

Smoking costs NHS £5 bn
Meanwhile, a report published in the journal Tobacco Control claims that the direct cost to the NHS of smoking could be five times higher than previous estimates.

According to Oxford University researchers the cost of smoking to the NHS is likely to be in the region of £5.2 billion for 2005/06 – although this does not even include expense relating to passive smoking or loss of productivity and other factors that could significantly boost even this estimate.

As Betty McBride, policy and communications director at the British Heart Foundation, which paid for the research, said: “This is money being drained out of the NHS as a direct result of something we have the power to prevent”.