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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Fury over cancer drug delays
Louise Thomas and children
Louise Thomas's home town raised the cash for her treatment
Breast cancer doctors and their patients are furious over delays which they say are stopping a life-saving cancer drug reaching the NHS.

They say the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) is dragging its feet and that Herceptin should be offered to the breast cancer patients who need it.

Herceptin has been available in the US for four years, but a decision on whether it is cost-effective for the NHS has been deferred to October by NICE.

Some health authorities, including Liverpool and Birmingham, already make the drug, available.

But others, such as Cheshire, say patients wanting the treatment must pay for it themselves, even though the drug has been licensed as safe and effective since 1999.

There is a compelling case for this drug, but this is the Government's fault because NICEis dragging its feet

Dr Andrew Wardley

'Frustrating' delays

Consultant Andrew Wardley, of the world famous Christie Hospital, in Manchester, said he was deeply frustrated by the NICE delays, which are stopping him prescribing the drug on the NHS.

"There is a compelling case for this drug, but this is the Government's fault because NICE is dragging its feet.

"I have considerable frustration because there are several patients that I feel should be given the opportunity to be treated with this drug."

Dr Andrew Wardley
Consultant Andrew Wardley said he is frustrated by delays

A spokesman for Christie Hospital said that because the NICE guidance had been delayed so long that they would now be making their own decision on funding the drug next month.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "Herceptin is a smart drug that doesn't work for everyone, but every patient deserves to find out whether they can benefit from it."

Life changing treatment

Breast cancer patient Susan Price, 34, from Greater Manchester, has been told she only has six months to live.

She believes Herceptin will add years to her life, but she cannot afford to pay the initial 1,000 followed by an additional 700 each week for the rest of her life.

"I am desperate, but I cannot possibly afford that."

Friends and neighbours of Louise Thomas, in Cheshire, raised more than 37,000 to pay for her treatment after she was told it would not be funded under the NHS.

The mother-of-three said Herceptin was her only hope, and she is angry at the health "lottery" which meant she could not get it, even though patients living 50 miles away can.

"It seems so unfair that some women have access to this drug depending on where they live and others have the financial burden and stress of paying for it.

"I know if I hadn't been taking Herceptin, I might not be able to function, I might not even be here.

"Sometimes I can even almost forget that I have cancer.

"Then the time comes to pay for my next course of treatment and its the most brutal reminder of all."

A spokesman for NICE said that there was still important information on the drug which needed to be considered.

The guidance, she said, would be available by the end of the year.

See also:

14 Aug 01 | Health
Town pays for woman's cancer drug
28 Jun 01 | Health
Verdict approaches on breast drug
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