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Like most people, I was saddened to learn of the King’s cancer diagnosis. But rest assured, Charles will have access to the best medical care this country has to offer.
As a prostate surgeon with over four decades of experience, I have seen first-hand the treatment of cancer patients in the NHS and in London’s best private hospitals.
Of course, NHS patients can expect to be cared for by highly trained and hardworking doctors and nurses who have access to advanced medicines.
However, it is undeniable that money can buy the best when it comes to cancer.
Charles will undoubtedly be cared for by the country’s top specialists, who work in elite facilities because they are the most in demand and often receive eye-watering salaries.
But it’s not just the doctors themselves who differentiate luxury private cancer care from the NHS.
From expensive medications to private chefs, read on to find out what King Charles could get and what most of his loyal subjects couldn’t.
Charles, pictured with Camilla, will receive the quickest treatment possible, says Professor Kirby
Wait days, not weeks, to start treatment.
According to the Prime Minister, Charles’ cancer was detected early and we also know that he started treatment on Monday. Those lucky enough to have private healthcare would expect to begin treatment almost immediately.
We’re told that although he was recently in the hospital for treatment for an enlarged prostate, he does not have prostate cancer. However it has not been made public what type of cancer she has.
It would be a mistake to speculate further about the nature of his illness. But while he was in the hospital, it is very likely that he had blood tests and body scans that could have revealed the disease.
At 75, Charles is an age when men are most at risk of developing cancer, and lung, bowel and bladder cancers are common diagnoses in this group. That’s why it’s important to get regular checkups, especially if he starts experiencing unexpected symptoms.
A big problem is that many men do not go to the doctor when they start having health problems, so men tend to die younger than women.
Fortunately, Charles seems to have bucked that trend. And that will give you a good chance of getting a positive result. However, so will the rapid cancer treatment he is likely to receive at a major private hospital.
Most NHS patients with a cancer diagnosis can wait weeks, even months, to start treatment, which could be surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other medications.
The NHS is aiming for patients to wait no more than two months for all of this to start. But figures from the end of last year suggest more than 20,000 Britons are waiting more than 62 days to start cancer treatment.
Studies suggest that every month treatment for an aggressive cancer is delayed, the risk of death increases by 10 percent.
However, for most patients, a wait of two months from diagnosis to the start of treatment does not significantly affect the chances of survival. Despite this, waiting can cause incredible anxiety.
Private cancer care allows patients to escape this anxiety and begin cancer care instantly. No wonder cancer care is now the biggest source of income for London’s private hospitals.
Money is no object when it comes to life-saving medicines
NHS doctors have access to some of the best cancer drugs in the world; However, there are some medications that are only offered privately due to their prohibitive cost.
There has been a revolution in cancer treatment thanks to the development of precision medicine: targeted therapies designed to attack specific aspects of certain types of cancer, and immunotherapy, which are drugs that help train the body’s defensive cells to find and destroy cancer.
They can be used along with conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy, or alone. Even in the case of advanced and incurable cancers, they are proving remarkably successful in prolonging life and even offering cures in some cases.
These new drugs are also extremely expensive and many are not offered on the NHS, or if they are, only in very limited circumstances.
According to Hendrik-Tobias Arkenau, medical director of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in the UK, an example of this is the immunotherapy drug ipilimumab, which costs approximately £15,000 per injection and is administered once every three months as long as there is benefit.
It is offered to NHS patients with melanoma, skin cancer and some types of lung cancer; However, Professor Arkenau says: “There are currently some bowel cancer patients who could benefit from ipilimumab but cannot get it on the NHS.
‘Drugs like this are likely to be offered to NHS intestinal patients over time, but there are often delays in their rollout, because the NHS has to negotiate to reduce these costs.
“The private sector doesn’t need to do that, because the patient pays.”
Additionally, many newer cancer treatments require trained doctors and nurses to administer them.
If your local NHS hospital does not have a doctor who knows how to use the cancer treatment you need, you will probably be referred to a specialist hospital further away.
King Charles will not have this problem since the specialists he needs for cancer treatment will come to him.
Most cancer tests are the same wherever you receive treatment, but there is some technology that NHS hospitals cannot afford to provide.
Private patients may also be offered genetic testing – analysis of tumor cells that can identify which treatments are most likely to be effective.
Similar tests can also warn patients if they carry a gene that increases the risk of cancer, which is important knowledge because this gene can be passed on to children.
Due to the prohibitive cost of carrying out these genetic tests, the practice is reserved for only the most needy NHS patients.
However, private hospitals can offer genetic testing to any patient who is willing to pay for it.
It is important to note that many patients, especially men, will not benefit from genetic testing.
While doctors now know what types of mutations are linked to aggressive breast cancer, for example, scientists have had less success in identifying important mutations linked to men with prostate and testicular cancer.
Private patients may also be offered more advanced scanning technology than NHS patients.
An example is a scanner known as a 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging machine. This provides much clearer and more detailed images than standard MRI, allowing doctors to make a more accurate diagnosis of diseases such as prostate cancer.
However, these machines can cost millions of pounds. For this reason, it is considered too expensive for the NHS, but it is the type of care a private patient could expect to receive.
The Cleveland Clinic has spent a staggering £2 billion on this new hospital in central London.
Five-star treatment and private chef
Many private clinics look more like five-star hotels than hospitals.
The Cleveland Clinic has spent a staggering £2bn on a new hospital in central London.
The exclusive centre, overlooking Buckingham Palace, sees fewer than 200 patients at a time but has a staff of almost 1,500 people, including 350 consultants.
Upon entering, one is immediately impressed by the super-modern, almost futuristic design chosen by the American medical company.
It is a far cry from NHS hospitals, which often look dated and sometimes even dilapidated.
Many of London’s top private hospitals, such as King Edward VII’s Hospital in Marylebone, where I am a trustee, have kitchens run by top chefs, serving freshly prepared food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s no surprise that patients are willing to pay a significant premium to receive this level of convenience.
Of course, an increasing number of them will have private health insurance (which, depending on the level of their policy), will fully or partially cover their costs.
We don’t know how regularly King Charles will need to go to hospital, how long he will remain hospitalized or what his treatment will entail.
But the truth is that you will be comfortable and well cared for.
But the NHS has its advantages.
Private care can’t buy everything in the UK. Most private cancer patients will be treated by a specialist who oversees their care. But in the NHS, patients will be cared for by a rotating team of specialists, across everything from cardiovascular health to chemotherapy.
This is more of a custom than anything else, as private doctors have traditionally taken sole responsibility for patients, rather than sharing it with other doctors.
It is in this teamwork that I believe the NHS is particularly a global leader.
Additionally, many private hospitals are generally not better equipped for emergencies. This is because they are not equipped to deal with a life-threatening situation such as a heart attack or stroke.
Should this happen, patients in private hospitals may be sent by ambulance to an NHS facility, which may cause a delay in emergency treatment.
However, I am confident that wherever Charles receives cancer care, he will be treated by some of the best doctors in the world, who will give him the best chance of recovery.
Professor Roger Kirby is President of the Royal Society of Medicine