Friday, December 19, 2008

NHS Cancer patient given less than two months to live is told she must wait 25 days for drugs

A cancer patient given less than two months to live has been refused a life-prolonging drug until an NHS trust finishes a month-long investigation. Margaret Jones hopes to be treated with Revlimid for myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow. Her consultant says the drug, which costs around 4,300 pounds for each cycle, could extend the 72-year-old's life without debilitating side effects. But bosses at her primary care trust ruled they would not pay for Revlimid because it was not 'cost effective', even though other PCTs prescribe it for myeloma sufferers.

Mother-of-three Mrs Jones - backed by her family, MP, doctor and cancer charities - appealed on the grounds that another patient living nearby successfully overturned the trust's decision to block the same drug treatment in September. But on December 5 Anne Walker, chief executive of East and North Hertfordshire PCT, said her case was still being investigated and said a response would be sent 'within 25 working days' - about half of Mrs Jones's life expectancy.

The case reignites the controversy over the 'postcode lottery' for NHS care and the time taken by the Government's rationing body to approve new cancer drugs. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) ruled last month that it would deny Revlimid to patients with myeloma despite admitting that it could extend life by up to three years.

Mrs Jones, of Welwyn, Hertfordshire, was diagnosed with myeloma just before Easter 2006. She had been using the controversial drug thalidomide to fight the cancer but recently began to suffer damaging side-effects, including loss of feeling in her hands and feet, and excruciating pain elsewhere in her body. Following advice from her consultant-haematologist at the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, backed by the charity Myeloma UK, she applied to the trust to use Revlimid - but was declined.

Yesterday she said: 'It seems wrong that there is a drug that can help people and yet the authorities put it beyond the reach of them. It is like being in a cage and somebody putting a piece of bread just out of reach. It is cruel.' Her son Jon Jones, 37, said: 'The concerning aspect of this case is that decisions on whether to provide a treatment are being made on the basis of total cost and do not consider the clinical effectiveness of those therapies. 'Elsewhere in the country, Revlimid is being provided. The PCT making this particular decision is located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The issue of a postcode lottery for health care is not going away and is still a heart-breaking issue for many people and their families.'

The 37-year-old former RAF pilot, who lives in Wiltshire, added that the PCT's decision to spend up to 25 days investigating his mother's appeal was 'upsetting'. He said: 'If you have got someone who has got a matter of weeks to live then 25 days is too long. It should become a matter of urgency. 'I am not saying that those responsible at the trust are off playing golf. I accept they are busy people. But when a decision needs making very quickly, they need to act quickly.'

Mrs Jones's Tory MP, Grant Shapps, said: 'The PCT should be utterly ashamed of itself. They have a woman's life in their hands and they should overturn their original decision immediately.'


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Simple cost-effect analysis.
Giving her the drug costs 10.000 pounds until she dies (roughly), while she generates less than that in income to the NHS in the form of fees etc.
Therefore the NHS is better off is she's dead, thus treatment is denied.
Case closed...

That's what you get with socialist (it's hardly socialised, let alone social) healthcare.