Ban on NHS top up is cruel rationing, says BMA

Doctors believe patients should be allowed to pay for drugs that are not available on the NHS as they called for an independent inquiry into the controversial problem.

They warned that not allowing patients to top up their NHS treatment with private medication was a “cruel form of rationing”.

In a close debate, doctors at the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh voted in favour of a motion saying patients should have the choice to purchase non-health service treatments and medications if they wish and still receive the rest of their treatment free. The motion was passed with 62.8 per cent of the vote in favour.

The debate comes after a woman dying of cancer was denied free NHS treatment in her final months because she had paid privately for a drug to try to prolong her life.

Linda O’Boyle, 64, from Billericay, Essex, was receiving chemotherapy on the NHS, but she paid for the drug cetuximab to boost her chances of fighting bowel cancer. She was banned from free NHS care and died in May.

At present, patients who want a drug or treatment that has not been through an appraisal system or has not been licensed can have NHS funding refused by their primary care trust.

If they choose to pay for the treatment they have to have all their care privately. Many trusts are flouting the rules and allowing patients to purchase drugs which are administered within the NHS and continuing with their health service care.

But in a second motion, members of the BMA stopped short of demanding top-ups be introduced now by the narrowest of margins, 154 to 153, and have called for a Royal Commission to look at the issue further. The labour government has already ordered Prof Mike Richards, national director for cancer services to review the position and the report is due in October.

Some labour ministers claim that allowing private top up treatment would bring about the downfall of the NHS by allowing richer patients to pay for improved treatment, while drugs available to poorer patients may be limited.

At the highly charged debate, one doctor, Gordon Matthews, spoke movingly about his own wife with end stage cancer who wants to buy drugs. He argued that it was not ethical to exclude patients from the NHS because they had chosen to pay for drugs when they are ‘clinging to their lives’. Another doctor said the worst moment of his medical career was hearing women screaming while undergoing abortions because they could not afford the anaesthetic.

Proposer of the motion Stephen Austin of the BMA consultants committee said the current rule is “healthcare rationing in its most brutal and cruel form” and that it placed patients in an “impossible” position.

But Dr Jackie Davis of the BMA Council said pharmaceutical companies would put pressure on vulnerable patients and insurance companies would be lining up to offer cover for drugs that the NHS will not pay for. Dr Kevin O’Kane, from the London region, said the motion was ‘poisonous’ and a ‘nail in the NHS coffin’.

He added that the review of the NHS carried out by Lord Darzi meant the appraisal of new drugs by the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) would be speeded up and the postcode lottery in treatment ended, so there was no need for the motion.

Just over 70 per cent voted in favour of a Royal Commission to look into the issue and then supported supplementary motions that co-payments must not be a route to extension of NHS charges.

Commenting after the debate, Dr Hamish Meldrum said: “In principle doctors believe that patients should have the choice to buy additional treatment that is not available on the NHS, without being forced to pay for all their treatment privately.

“However, they stopped short of asking for co-payments to be introduced until there has been a wider debate with the profession and public and the evidence has been collected and examined. Doctors recognised that there were many potential problems with introducing co-payments and suggested a number of safeguards they would wish to see considered were they to be introduced.”

Ian Beaumont, Director of Communications, Bowel Cancer UK said: “We are concerned that while co-payments will enable some patients to receive treatments privately, those who can’t afford to pay will not be able to access them. Co-payments also give the Government, NICE and Primary Care Trusts an excuse to deny patients access to new, effective treatments on the NHS.”


Health Direct posts that people who can afford to opt out of the NHS completely and purchase private health care should be able to do so, and they do.

Any one who could afford to top up should be alowed to do so. People who can afford neither will still benefit from free health care from the NHS. Yes this is a multi-tiered health care system , but what is so wrong with that?

The idea that this would spell the end of the NHS is laughable, unless some factions of the BMA are so worried that all their members will do as dentists did and dump NHS practice all togethar.

Pharmaceutical companies cannot pressurise poor people because they are not permitted direct patient advertising as they are in the US. They could pressurise GPs, but you have to hope that the unscrupulous fat cat, pound chasing, sloppy GPs who would in turn pressurise patients are struck off.

Insurance companies will queue up to offer potential NHS blacklisted treatments, but again if someone chooses to invest in their future health provision why shouldn’t they? It is no different than buying critical illness insurance. You buy it or you dont it depends on what value you put on it.

Maybe it is about time that people started to take more responsibility for their own health. The current government think it is a dirty word, but perhaps people should ASPIRE, to be in a better position when benefiting from healthcare; rather than aspiring to own a car they cannot afford or sinking 20 pints and smoking 40 fags that weekend.

It is these people, with skewed notions of aspiration i.e. to appear wealthier and more important that they actually (just like a celebrity) are who will ensure the demise of the NHS, not the ones who have chosen to invest in their health!

Gordon Brown is always battering on about choice, why not put your money where your mouth is then Gordo, give people the choice!

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