NHS’s refusal to fund cancer treatment costs mother £21,000

For Barbara Moss, the photographs of this summer’s camping trip to France will be particularly special.Two years ago, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and given less than five months to live. After chemotherapy failed to slow the disease’s progress, doctors said that her only hope was a drug called bevacizumab, marketed as Avastin, which her local NHS refused to fund.

When Mrs Moss, 53, cashed in her pension to buy the drug, she was also made to pay for other NHS care that previously had been free. Her story highlights a national debate on drug rationing that is about to reach fever pitch.

Next month, Prof Mike Richards, the Department of Health cancer tsar, will announce results of a labour government review into rules that deny NHS treatment to patients who want to “top up” their care by paying for some of it. The Government had to examine the issue after a public outcry over the death in March of Linda O’Boyle, a grandmother denied free NHS treatment after buying the bowel cancer drug cetuximab, marketed as Erbitux.

Mrs Moss was prescribed Avastin by her consultant at Worcester Royal Hospital, but the primary care trust refused to fund it. Instead, the former schoolteacher and her husband, Mark, a toolmaker, cashed in their pensions, and were given money by Mrs Moss’s 86-year-old mother to pay for the drug.

It shrank a secondary tumour in her liver so successfully that she was able to have it removed. When the cancer returned, she was once again denied Avastin. The couple spent a total of £21,000 on the drug and on the chemotherapy and nursing that Mrs Moss had previously received free of charge.

Latest scans show she is tumour-free. The cancer is likely to return, but already she has survived for 17 months beyond her original prognosis. On holiday in France, Mrs Moss said: “All this extra time has been so precious. I have been able to spend time with my husband and two sons, and it has helped them and me to prepare for my death. Every day now is a bonus, and I am grateful for that. But I am angry that after paying our taxes we had to take on these battles, and I feel really aggrieved for those people who cannot afford these treatments which are available in so many other countries.”

Mrs O’Boyle’s widower, Brian, recently had a private meeting with Prof Richards to discuss the top-up review. Last night Mr O’Boyle told The Sunday Telegraph that he wants the entire system of drug rationing overhauled, so that every patient gets the treatment their consultant prescribes.

The father of three said his wife, who was an NHS occupational therapist, would have been amazed by the impact her death has had. Worcestershire PCT said it had concluded that there was not enough evidence to support the use of Avastin for bowel cancer.

Southend Hospital Foundation trust, which treated Mrs O’Boyle, said the charges for her NHS care followed Government policy, which meant only one organisation could be held accountable for a patient’s care.

The charity Bowel Cancer UK campaigns on behalf of patients seeking both Avastin and Erbitux. The drugs’ use is restricted by the National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the rationing body, on the grounds of cost.

The charity and many bowel cancer doctors are critical of the Nice guidance, but also say PCTs do not have proper policies that should allow some patients to be given the drugs if their cases could be defined as exceptional.

Ian Beaumont, charity’s campaigns director, said: “We think the current system is totally broken. All over Britain we have got patients who are having to battle the NHS system at the same time they are fighting cancer.”


Health Direct thinks that it is quite absurd that a quango like labour’s NICE should have the power of life and death over patients when such powers were abolished years ago for the judiciary.

The problem for the NHS is that labour has blurred the difference between for example top ups for dental treatment and those for life saving cancer drugs- with no idea of the size of potential extra income for the NHS if labour was to see sense and allow extra personal funding.

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