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Sweden plans to centralise cancer care

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Sweden plans to centralise cancer care
16:28 CEST+02:00
Sweden plans to reduce the number of locations patients can receive care for certain types of cancer, in the hope of improving the overall quality of the care provided.

The highly specialised care required for uncommon types of cancer will be coordinated nationally according to a overall strategy, according to a new agreement.

"Certain treatments need to be centralised in a few places in order to ensure the highest quality care," health minister Göran Hägglund told the TT news agency.

In the future, treatment for certain types of cancer will be divided between different regions and counties, according to a new agreement between the government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR).

The costs of medical research for cancer and other diseases continue to rise dramatically. Thus Swedish cancer research will become more centralised as well, due largely to financial considerations, according to Hägglund.

"Yes, in the sense that we can't achieve top results at every hospital in Sweden, as it becomes unreasonably expensive," he said.

"Here we want to be certain that we have clinical research at a high international level," he added.

The future of cancer care in Sweden is not set to undergo a review and is scheduled to be completed by September 1st, 2013.

"By then we'll have achieved a break down as to what should occur and where," said Hägglund.

He emphsasied that competence in treating more common forms of cancer, like breast and prostate cancer, will continue to be available across the country.

However, treatment for less common types of cancer, in which fewer patients require treatments that demand high levels of knowledge and advanced equipment, will be centralised.

"That sort of activity is something we need to operate in relatively few locations in order to reach the highest possible quality," said Hägglund.

Studies have shown that being close to home and relatives is important for people receiving treatment for serious illnesses.

If cancer care in Sweden is centralised further, more patients will be forced to live in another part of the country during treatment.

The Swedish Cancer Society (Cancerfonden) supports reforms of Sweden's cancer care.

In early April, the group released a report which found that hundreds of lives could have been saved if cancer care were more centralised.

According to the Cancer Society, many women with ovarian cancer could have been saved in Sweden through more specialised surgeries.

Another problem the group identified within Swedish cancer care was a lack of pathologists – specialists in disease and diagnosis.

Last Thursday, the government appointed Marie Beckman Suurküla, a former director at Uppsala University Hospital, to lead a review of Swedish pathology with the aim of offering suggestions as to how to strengthen and increase expertise in the area.

Hägglund admitted there are shortcomings in today's system.

"It can lead to people waiting an inappropriately long time for an assessment, that diagnoses are delayed, and that action is taken so late that it can actually affect the course of the disease.

As if to illustrate Hägglund's point, Sweden's TV4 affiliate in Värmland in central Sweden reported on Thursday about an elderly man who died after his oesophageal cancer went undiagnosed.

Despite making repeated trips to various health clinics complaining of stomach cramps, doctors failed to detect the disease.

Other diagnoses included a broken rib and constipation and each time he was prescribed pain killers.

After ten months, doctors finally discovered that the man had cancer of the oesophagus and he died a month later.

The case prompted Värmland County Council to report itself to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) in accordance with Sweden's Lex Maria, the informal name used to refer to regulations governing the reporting of injuries or incidents in the Swedish health care system.

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