Doctors for Reform fight NHS order to halt cancer care

A group representing nearly 1,000 doctors is preparing to mount a legal action against the health service to stop care being withdrawn from patients who want to pay for their own cancer medicines.

It is seeking a judicial review of the Department of Health policy that forces patients to pay for all their treatment if they buy any additional medicine.

Many patients would like to buy extra drugs that are not offered as part of their treatment because the National Health Service has ruled that the benefits do not justify the costs.

The labour government fears that if patients make the purchases, called co-payments, it will lead to a “two-tier” NHS.

Doctors for Reform believes patients should be given the freedom to choose. Its intervention follows a campaign by The Sunday Times highlighting the plight of breast cancer sufferers denied the opportunity to improve their chances by paying privately for drugs.

Last December Health Direct reported the case of Colette Mills, a breast cancer sufferer from Stokesley in North Yorkshire, who was told that if she topped up her medication with privately bought drugs she would have to pay for her entire treatment – about £10,000 a month.

The Department of Health has issued guidance to health trusts warning them that co-payments are not allowed. In December Alan Johnson, the health secretary, reiterated the rules.

Doctors for Reform has teamed up with Halliwells, the law firm, to challenge the ruling. Halliwells is offering its services free as the doctors are trying to raise £35,000 in donations towards government legal fees if they lose.

The doctors point out that examples of co-payments already exist in the NHS, for instance in dental care.

Dr Christoph Lees, a steering group member, said: “Doctors are caught in a terrible dilemma: do you tell a patient about a drug that could improve their quality of life, or do you pretend it doesn’t exist?”

Another cancer patient, Debbie Hirst, 56, from St Ives, Cornwall, began legal action against her local NHS trust to win the right to pay for the drug Avastin. Legal judgment was averted when the trust decided to treat Hirst as a special case and paid for the medicine.

For more information, see Doctors for Reform


The idea of equal care across all social groups is the ideal. But to achieve this by witholding treatment from the rich rather than improving the care of the poor is typical of this labour government, and leads to only one thing – unnecessary or early death!

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