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NHS bars cancer sufferer after she saw doctor privately

A woman has been denied an operation on the NHS after paying for a private consultation to deal with her severe back pain after cancer.

Jenny Whitehead, a breast cancer survivor, paid £250 for an appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon after being told she would have to wait five months to see him on the NHS. He told her he would add her to his NHS waiting list for surgery.

She was barred from the list, however, and sent back to her GP. She must now find at least £10,000 for private surgery, or wait until the autumn for the NHS operation to remove a cyst on her spine.

“When I paid £250 to see the specialist privately I had no idea I would be sacrificing my right to surgery on the NHS. I feel victimised,” she said.

The case will reopen the debate over NHS policy towards patients who pay for some of their care privately. Following a Sunday Times campaign in 2008, the government ordered the NHS to stop withdrawing care from patients who received additional private treatment or drugs.

Cancer sufferers were being barred from further NHS treatment after buying potentially life saving medicines not offered by the health service.

Whitehead’s case, which has shocked her local Labour MP, reveals that patients who go private in despair at long waiting lists still risk jeopardising their NHS treatment. Department of Health officials admit it remains official policy.

Whitehead, 64, a former museum assistant from Yorkshire who works as a volunteer at a hospice, went to her GP in December for back pain. Because of her breast cancer history, she was immediately offered an MRI scan to check the disease had not returned. It revealed a cyst on her spine, pressing against her sciatic nerve. Her GP referred her to a consultant at Airedale NHS hospital.

She was told the next available NHS appointment was in May, so she accepted the offer of a private slot to see him the following week.

“My husband and I are retired and don’t have a lot of money, but I am in intense pain and couldn’t face the thought of waiting months just for an initial consultation,” she said.

The specialist promised to add her to his NHS waiting list for surgery. After two months, however, hospital managers told her she had been barred from the waiting list because she had seen the surgeon privately.

Now her only alternative to paying £10,000 privately is to go back to her GP, seek another referral to the same specialist, this time on the NHS, and face another 18-week wait.

“We will scratch together the money if we absolutely have to, but I feel it’s incredibly unfair,” said Whitehead. “I’ve paid full National Insurance contributions all my working life and feel I should get this operation on the NHS.”

Ann Cryer, who is standing down as Labour MP for Keighley, has written to the hospital urging it to reconsider. She told Whitehead that she had been “badly let down and ill advised”.

Bradford and Airedale NHS trust said it was looking into the case “as a matter of urgency” but added: “Anyone who chooses to pay for a private outpatient consultation cannot receive NHS treatment unless they are then referred on to an NHS pathway by their consultant.”

From:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article7100968.ece

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