August 11, 2008

Postcode Lottery Over Cancer Drugs Means Patients Are Dying

Patients with rare cancers are being left to die due to a postcode lottery over who gets access to drugs, research out today suggests.

A study from the Rarer Cancers Forum found wide variations across England in the number of patients granted access to medicines. The charity obtained full details under the Freedom of Information Act from 62 of England's 152 primary care trusts.

It revealed that 100 per cent of applications from patients were rejected in some areas of the country, but in other areas every single one was approved.

A total of 96 per cent of patients living in Mid Essex had their requests approved, while every one in neighbouring South West Essex had theirs rejected. Overall, one in four exceptional requests for cancer treatment were denied.

The charity extrapolated the statistics to give a suggestion of how many patients across England may have been denied treatment. The figure was 1,314.

The charity's chief executive, Penny Wilson-Webb, said: "The NHS should be available to all who need it. Yet 1,300 cancer patients were denied the treatment that could have made all the difference to them."She said thousands of cancer patients had been forced to plead for their lives since October 2006, the time covered by the survey.

"There has to be a better way," she added. "We urge the Government to accept our 10 point plan to end this bizarre and demeaning lottery."

PCTs are not forced to fund treatments which have not yet been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), or which are not being appraised.

Doctors and patients must appeal for the drugs, saying the patients represent an "exceptional case".

According to the forum, between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of all cancer cases could be classified as "rarer", falling outside the common cancers such as colon, breast, lung and prostate.

A cancer may be classed as "rarer" either because it affects an unusual site in the body, or because the cancer itself is of an unusual type, is difficult to diagnose, or requires special treatment.

Examples include some neck and head cancers, eye cancers and rare cancers of the endocrine system.

Today's report comes after Nice rejected four drugs last week for treating advanced kidney cancer.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The Department of Health issued good practice guidance to the NHS in December 2006 that makes it clear funding for treatments should not be withheld solely because Nice guidance is not available, but that decisions should be made on the basis of the evidence. The guidance also suggests sources of information NHS organisations can consult in the absence of Nice guidance."

Applications to exceptional cases panels by Midland Primary Care Trusts:

Number of applications (number rejected)

Heart of Birmingham: 11 (7)

Birmingham East and North: 38 (22)

Herefordshire: 15 (8)

Dudley: 74 (27)

Worcestershire: 78 (26)

Telford and Wrekin: 10 (3)

Walsall: 68 (2)

Shropshire County: 15 (0)

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