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Original things to say on a much covered subject

Mike Phipps reviews The Price of Experience for Labour Briefing, May 2014.

When diagnosed with cancer in 2007, Mike Marqusee was determined not to write about it. We should be thankful that he has done so, because on this much-covered subject, he has many original things to say.

Politicians talk about waging a “war on cancer” and finding a cure has featured in many electioneering speeches. Perhaps they are unaware that there are over 200 types with many different causes. And just as it took decades for the truth about tobacco and asbestos to emerge, who knows how much information industry chooses to conceal about other cancer-causing agents in our environment?

Survival rates have doubled in the last thirty years, not so much due to any new drug breakthroughs but more the result of improvements in existing treatments and care. And there‘s considerable scope for doing better: “The single biggest boon for people living with cancer would be the elimination of inequalities in healthcare.”

In fact, Con Dem cuts are widening the “deprivation gap”. Mike discusses how budget reductions affect treatments – including his own – in a very concrete way.

He takes aim too at the pharmaceutical industry which manipulates research and drug availability for profit. Big Pharma claims its high prices reflect long-term research and development, but drug companies spend more than twice as much on marketing and lobbying as on research.

Prices are exorbitant because the market – of desperate and suffering individuals – will bear it. Mike’s own treatment, with a drug produced by a US corporation, costs the NHS £50,000 a year, although production costs are next to nothing.

There’s a lot of profit to be made from human misery. Mike concludes: “Though I’m one of those being held hostage by Big Pharma, I’ve experienced no trace of Stockholm syndrome. On the contrary, I resent the way my illness, my vulnerability, has been exploited, used by a group of self-serving parasites to gouge the public purse.” A book full of the indomitability of the human spirit.