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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Ban on use of life-saving drug
Intensive care
Sepsis kills intensive care patients
Doctors working in an intensive care unit say they have been blocked from giving patients a potentially life-saving drug.

Xigris is designed to treat sepsis, a catastrophic immune system reaction to infection which produces organ failure and kills thousands of people each year.

The drug is not a cure, but it has been shown to reduce the death rate among sepsis patients by around 6%.

The downside is that it costs around 5,000 a time.

Some patients will die, because they have not received this drug because they have been in the wrong hospital
Professor David Bennett

Professor David Bennett, of St George's Hospital Intensive Care Unit, London, has been told by his hospital there is no money to pay for the drug, but he can use it once a month on compassionate grounds

He has described the ruling as totally unacceptable, and part of a wider postcode lottery in which patients in some hospitals will be given the drug, while others will not.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday, he said the use of the drug was "patchy" among hospitals in England, with some not having the money to purchase the drug at all.

"The major implication is that some patients will die, because they have not received this drug because they have been in the wrong hospital," he said.

"Clearly this needs to be resolved quite quickly," he added.

Multiple organ failure

Dr Jonathan Cooke, chief pharmacist and director of research and development at Withington Hospital, Manchester, defended the decision to limit the use of Xigris.

He told BBC News Online the case for the benefits of Xigris was based on just one study carried out in the US.

The findings, which were not necessarily applicable to the UK, showed that the drug benefitted some, but not all patients.

"The drug is not without toxicity - with serious haemorrhage a possibility," he added.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence will issue guidance on Xigris, but that is not expected until August next year.

Xigris has been approved for use by the NHS in Scotland.

Sepsis can strike anyone but is most likely to develop from infection associated with pneumonia, trauma, surgery, burns or conditions such as cancer and Aids.

Some cases are mild, such as a tooth abscess. If severe it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Four out of five patients who die from major injuries are actually killed by sepsis.

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