A Medical Device Daily

The UK country of Wales has a long history of working in cancer research, but a new chapter in that history has been written with the recent launch of the Wales Cancer Institute.

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK (London), the umbrella organization for research against the disease across the UK, spoke during ceremonies marking the unveiling of the virtual organization.

He cited Wales as "the pathfinder for the rest of Britain. Wales was the first place to [establish] an effective cancer clinical trials network," and "the fantastic achievement of Wales' vision has been replicated across the UK."

Noting that cancer patients "are being recruited to cancer trials at four times the rate that they were four years ago," he said, "that means patients have better access to the newest drugs and we know that improvements in treatment lead to improvements in survival rates."

Four years ago only 3.5% of adult patients in the UK – slightly fewer in Wales – were involved in clinical trials. Today the national rate is 12%, Markham said, "[and] in some parts of the country one in five adults have such access."

He added that "Wales kicked this off; it was the Welsh Cancer Trials Network that showed this country that it was possible."

Researchers say the development of the Wales Cancer Institute is a natural step forward in the fight against the disease, which kills more than 8,000 people a year in that country. "This virtual institute will fill the missing link between the internationally renowned research work being carried out in laboratories up and down the country and the actual treatment of patients in our hospital wards," noted a news release marking the occasion.

Those involved expect the benefits to be substantial, and they need to be. For a small nation – it has fewer than 3 million people – Wales has a disproportionately large amount of cancer. For most of the common cancers, Wales is near the top of the European list of cancer incidence. Skin cancer, for example, is between 2% and 3% higher in Wales than elsewhere in the UK. At least 14,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer every year in Wales.

Markham cited the prevalence of smoking in Wales, particularly among the lowest social classes, where it is twice that in the highest. He said, "The most important thing that can be done in the short term is a ban on smoking in public places in Wales. It's fantastic that Scotland has done it, but it's terrible that Wales, which wants to do it, can't because of Westminster. It's equally ridiculous that England isn't going to have an effective ban in 2008."

Just getting warmed up, he blasted the UK government, saying, "It's ridiculous that Wales has to go, almost cap in hand, to the Westminster government for permission to do something that'll save thousands of lives. In 2002, 1,730 people died of lung cancer in Wales, and it's all preventable."

Markham said, "Just because England is too stupid to ban it themselves, it shouldn't mean that the democratic process is compromised in Wales. Anything I can do, through Cancer Research UK, to support a ban in Wales, I will."

Saying he believes that there is still not enough knowledge about how people can be helped to change their lives, Markham added: "More work and resources should be committed to that area."

This is "not research for labs," he said, but social science research, "because despite all the interventions and messages over many years, they are not having the desired effect – 25% of people still smoke, for example."

Saying "we now have a 15 million pot of money which everyone in the research community can bid for to develop new research avenues, particularly prevention research," Markham added: "I hope that the Wales Cancer Institute is going to bid successfully to take a lead in the cancer prevention agenda and play to the strengths of the universities in Wales that aren't yet part of the institute, because one of Wales' strengths is its social sciences."

National program for IT established

Health Minister John Hutton last week reported plans for general practitioners across England to be able to select a wider range of computer systems as part of the National Programme for IT. Family doctors will have the option of using a wider variety of systems from those suppliers who have signed distribution contracts with one of the five local service providers. The systems also will have to be hosted in a data center to facilitate nationwide services such as GP-to-GP data transfer, electronic transmission of prescriptions and Choose and Book electronic appointment booking.

Eligible suppliers will now include EMIS, which has recently signed a contract with CSC, the local service provider for the North West and Midlands.

Hutton said: "Throughout the development of new IT systems for the NHS we have listened carefully to what front-line clinicians want from them. GPs have told us they want a wider choice of systems to use and I am pleased we can deliver this."

Hutton added: "The National Programme for IT has achieved an enormous amount in the two years it has been running – procuring and developing extremely advanced information systems which will make an enormous difference to the care patients receive. This investment in IT means the NHS will deliver safer, higher quality treatment for patients and much wider choice of who treats them.

"We are now seeing the results of the hard work by staff in the program and the NHS. The first systems have been installed in GP surgeries, hospitals and social care settings – and more will follow in the coming weeks and months."

Recent achievements that he listed include:

  • The first electronic prescriptions issued by a GP surgery, last month. The surgery, in Keighley, West Yorkshire, is now transmitting more than 900 e-prescriptions a week;
  • Several GP surgeries now connected to the national data spine;More than 5,000 NHS sites connected to the new high-speed data network (N3);
  • More than 100,000 users registered with the new NHS email service; and
  • Several modern and secure systems deployed in both acute trusts and primary care settings.

Hutton also said that on April 1 the National Programme for IT will become an agency of the Department of Health and will be re-named Connecting for Health. Richard Granger will become chief executive and senior responsible officer for program and systems delivery while remaining director general for IT.