August 28, 2008

Delight for Jack After Sight-Saving Drug Made Free for All ; A War Veteran Who Fought a Campaign to Get a Sight-Saving Drug on the NHS Says He Feels “Vindicated” It Will Now Be Made Freely Available Across the Country.

By Paul Greaves

A war veteran who fought a campaign to get a sight-saving drug on the NHS says he feels "vindicated" it will now be made freely available across the country.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) has recommended the drug Lucentis be provided free of charge to people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Former pilot Jack Tagg, 88, from Torquay, Devon, visited Downing Street earlier this year to protest about a decision by his local care trust not to pay for a course of the treatment.

That decision was later overturned but hundreds of other patients were left in limbo waiting for new guidance from Nice to be published.

Mr Tagg said: "I don't want to personalise this because this was not just about me - there were thousands of people across the country who couldn't afford the drug.

"But I am delighted about the decision and to a certain extent feel vindicated about the campaign.

"I always have believed that one of the requisites of a civilised society is that it cares for the old and the sick. If it doesn't, it becomes a Nazi state.

"Hopefully, this thing will come to an end now and people can enjoy a better quality of life."

AMD is the leading cause of sight loss in the UK and destroys the central region of the retina, the macula, leading to progressive loss of sight.

The final guidance, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, recommends Lucentis for treating wet AMD. The drug is already approved in Scotland.

The problem has always been about who pays for the drug - a single Lucentis injection is pounds761.20 (excluding VAT) and a full course of jabs would cost around pounds10,000.

When Mr Tagg visited his consultant in February, he was told he would need to lose sight in one eye before the other could be treated.

Torbay Care Trust was acting on draft recommendations from Nice which said Lucentis was too expensive to fund unless patients faced total blindness.

Mr Tagg put his house up for sale to fund the costs rather than lose sight in his right eye, and was inundated with cheques from people sympathetic to his cause.

Torbay Care Trust eventually decided to fund the treatment because it had neglected to tell Mr Tagg about its appeal process. The final decision is that the NHS will fund 14 injections - with the cost of any more being met by the manufacturer, in this case Novartis.

Nice chief executive Andrew Dillon said: "Lucentis is an expensive drug, costing more than pounds10,000 for each eye treated. But that cost needs to be balanced against the likely cost savings.

"AMD results in reduced quality of life and increased risks of illness, particularly in relation to accidents - especially falls - and psychological ill-health.

"Our guidance means that patients who are suitable for this treatment will have the same access to it, irrespective of where they live."

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) says the decision brings to an end the "cruel" postcode lottery for AMD treatment.

Its head of campaigns Steve Winyard said: "It is a victory for thousands, bringing overwhelming relief to desperate people across the country.

"Finally, the torment faced by elderly people forced to either spend their life savings on private treatment or go blind, is over."

Primary care trusts are usually given three months to implement Nice's guidance.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.