The claim, that 5,000 lives a year would be saved if cancer survival rates were at the European average, has proved contentious after it was cited by ministers, including in a speech by the Prime Minister earlier this year.
Doubts have been raised about the accuracy of the claim, most notably by Ben Goldacre, but also covered on Full Fact. Because the claim is based on a study that looked at data from 1985 to 1999, it is argued that it does not provide a sufficient guide to comparative survival rates today.
Though the ASA code does not apply to political communications, it does apply to “marketing communications by central or local Government, as distinct from those concerning party policy.”
On the issue of accuracy the code states that “marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.”
On how claims should be substantiated, the code states that the marketer, in the case the Government, “must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation.”
Mr McTernan’s complaint also referred to the guidelines relating to medical products which states that “objective claims must be backed up by evidence”.
The claim on cancer survival rate is not the only section which Mr McTernan complained about. He told Full Fact that the claim in the leaflet that the NHS reforms will give patients more choice also breaches ASA rules on accuracy on the grounds that patients already have a legal right to choose their provider.