Doctors’ anger at labour’s cruelty to patients

The medical establishment is in revolt against Labour’s policy of denying National Health Service treatment to patients who pay privately for cancer medicines.

The outcry from eminent consultants and doctors’ leaders came as news emerged of two more patients whose NHS care was removed while they were dying of cancer.

Alan Johnson, the health secretary, faces opposition from the presidents of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal College of Surgeons, as well as British Medical Association consultants.

Baroness Ilora Finlay, president of the Royal Society of Medicine, said the issue went to the heart of the purpose of the health service.

“Can we justify spending billions of pounds on the relief of relatively minor conditions and deny patients with life-threatening disease the support of the NHS when they want to bridge the costs themselves?” she said.

Finlay’s intervention, in an article for The Sunday Times, comes after it emerged that a man dying of kidney cancer had to battle for NHS care because his family followed doctors’ advice to pay privately for a drug.

John Burrell, a retired financial adviser from the Isle of Wight, died last month aged 63. His daughter, Kate Tasquier, said: “The consultant told my dad he would be billed for all of his treatment such as blood tests and scans. My dad was so worried.”

Although she said the NHS eventually compromised on the fees, “he ended up being so scared that he was going to be billed for his care that he was scared to go into hospital and he delayed starting the treatment”.

It also emerged that Sandra Baker, a bowel cancer victim, died last year after being denied NHS treatment in her final months. When she paid £9,500 privately for drugs, she was hit with an extra bill of £16,000 for her treatment.

The Sunday Times revealed the case of Linda O’Boyle who died of cancer aged 64 after being denied NHS treatment because she paid for a drug. Bernard Ribeiro, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and the annual consultants’ conference of the British Medical Association have also attacked the labour government’s block on NHS patients paying for additional drugs.

While Johnson insists cancer patients should not be allowed to pay for superior drugs because this would create a two-tier NHS, opposition parties have edged closer to supporting co-payments.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman who is developing a new party policy on the issue, said: “When a clinician recommends a proposed treatment as having therapeutic value to the patient, it seems cruel and perverse to withdraw all NHS treatment if the patient follows that advice.”

Ribeiro said: “I would strongly oppose the denial of life-saving operations to patients based on decisions they had made about how they supplement their NHS care.”

Cancer specialists at one of the country’s largest hospitals have found a way around the ban. About 16 oncologists at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust write prescriptions for their patients to receive private cancer drugs at home.

Professor Nick James, one of the doctors, said: “There is no question of us turning away these patients. I believe that to do so is punitive and vindictive. We remain responsible for the NHS care of these patients.”


Another question for Labour – how come these drugs are free in Scotland and that it’s only Englsih patients who face this dilemma?

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