Too high a price- Financial Times’s review of labour’s drug denials to cancer patients

Doctors’ leaders became the latest group to demand change to labour government guidance that refuses National Health Service care to seriously ill patients who seek to prolong their lives by paying for drugs that the NHS will not provide for them. The policy is so clearly unjustifiable that legal or political pressure looks sure to force ministers to concede the point eventually. But any delay will be damaging.

Part of the problem is the price of success. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) was created in 1999 to advise on which drugs were not just clinically effective but cost-effective as well – in other words, those for which the NHS should pay.

Nice’s standing is such that its judgements are valued and often followed by healthcare providers, public and private, in other countries.

It is right that a health service paid for by taxpayers should spend public money where medical evidence suggests it will do the most good. Its job is not to license treatments where the cost to the NHS is outweighed by the limited prospect of success.

What is wrong is the corollary that the labour government has attached to this: that someone who decides even a small chance of prolonging life is worth a great deal of money becomes an NHS non-person.

The extra costs of paying fully privately for their treatment will not affect the wealthiest, but will hit those financially stretched by paying for the drug alone.

The Department of Health says allowing co-payments would risk creating a two-tier health service. This is simplistic. It also suggests – wrongly – that any sort of personal payment currently precludes all access to state provision.

A pupil whose parent hires a state school teacher to provide some out-of-hours tutoring is not banned from the local comprehensive. A patient who pays privately for physiotherapy is not barred from NHS treatment for back pain.

The “slippery slope” argument about co-payments is not compelling either. This small category of exceptional life-and-death cases is in a different class from decisions whether to allow someone to purchase a far more expensive hip prosthesis that offers only marginal extra benefit.

There is room for serious debate about what role co-payment should play in healthcare.

But those who believe that any form of top-up payment would destroy the principles of the NHS diminish their own case – and the likelihood that anyone will listen to them – if they cannot see the argument for allowing it in these exceptional circumstances.


Health Direct notes that the Financial Times now joins the Sunday Times in lambasting labour’s indefensible policy of killing poor cancer patients whilst paying for the removal of tattoos on chavs.

On October 26, 2006 Health Direct posted: NHS blows millions on removing 187,000 tattoos

The National Health Service spent tens of millions of pounds removing nearly 200,000 tattoos in 2006, according to figures released by the Department of Health last week. Rosie Winterton, the health minister, said in a Commons written answer that doctors had carried out the procedure, involving either skin grafts or lasers, on 187,063 tattoos.

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