Monday, May 07, 2007

Capitalism is a Cancer

Bucharest will witness a protest demonstration of a grisly kind today. The streets of the Romanian capital will be filled with cancer patients pleading with a government that they say has turned its back on them.

More than 370,000 patients have been diagnosed with cancer in Romania but only 76,000 are in treatment, according to official estimates. This year's budget for cancer treatment has been set at 336 million lei (£65 million), a fraction of the amount spent in other EU member states. The UK, with a population less than three times as big as Romania's, spent £4.3 billion on cancer in 2005-06. Many women with breast and gynaecological cancers who had had surgery and radiotherapy are unable to get chemotherapy.

In September, the government ordered a ban on newly trained doctors joining two-year oncology [ the study and treatment of tumors ] courses to qualify as specialists - the first EU member state to obliterate the specialty of oncology - replacing it with a 4 month course instead .

The government also introduced a new system for distributing drugs to cancer patients on 1 April. Previously, it had been handled by hospital pharmacies, but now patients can take a scrip from their doctor to a city pharmacy, and take the drugs at home. But the pharmacies are reluctant to supply the drugs because of bad experiences in the past with underfunded government schemes. The Ministry of Health has big debts from past years and they are sceptical that the government will pay this time . "Cancer drugs are expensive and no one wants to invest a lot of money in buying them and then find re-payments are blocked." . Thousands of patients were left without treatment.

Organisers of the protest in front of the Ministry of Public Health accuse the government of neglecting the suffering of cancer patients. They say ministers are withholding investment because they view cancer patients as economically unproductive.

Referring to the Minister of Health, Eugen Nicolaescu, a Federation of Cancer Patient Associations spokeswoman said :-

"He is an economist, not a doctor. He sees just figures and money, not human lives..."

A spokeswoman for the BMA in Scotland said:"It is no longer financially feasible to deliver everything to all people..."We need to have a sensible debate about rationing in Scotland in context of the Scottish health service."

While Dr Andrew Walker, health economist at Glasgow University, said:-
"...the Scottish Medicines Consortium, which guides the NHS on new drugs, already performed a cost benefit analysis to determine what should be made available to patients...As an economist I would like to see the same sort of model for the other 85% of the health service"

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