Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 16:22 UK

Cancer drug access 'among worst'

A variety of different pills
The survey asked about the availability of five top cancer drugs

Access to a kidney cancer drug in Oxfordshire is among the worst in the UK, BBC research shows.

The UK-wide study focused on a total of five drugs not yet approved for widespread use by the NHS.

The survey revealed that last year Oxfordshire turned down 12 out of 13 requests for one of the drugs (once recommended by a doctor) called Sutent.

Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust said each patient's case was considered on its own merits.

The poll was carried out across the UK for the BBC One series, Dom's on the Case.

Programme researchers contacted all of the 149 Primary care trusts in England, and the health authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The researchers asked how many cancer sufferers had been given five top cancer drugs that had been recommended to them by their GPs.

The drugs in the survey were considered in relation to the following cancers:
Avastin: Colon and breast cancer
Erbitux: Colon and lung cancer
Nexavar: Renal and liver cancer
Sutent: Renal cancer
Tarceva: Pancreatic cancer

The drugs - Avastin, Erbitux, Nexavar, Sutent and Tarceva - are relatively expensive, with the cost of treatment running into thousands of pounds.

At the time of the survey, none of them had the approval of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) - the body responsible in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for giving guidance on the use of new medicines in the NHS.

The decision to allow patients the drugs rested with each PCT.

In Oxfordshire, 12 out of 13 requests for the kidney cancer drug Sutent were turned down last year, whereas in nearby Buckinghamshire, 13 out of 15 requests for the same drug were funded.

Meanwhile one patient in the county also requested Nexavar but was refused.

Two patients who requested Tarceva were given the drug, while no-one requested Avastin.

In 2007, Andy Crabb, who is suffering from kidney cancer, was told Sutent may stop his tumours growing and improve and extend his life, although it would not cure him.

Andy Crabb

But the 49-year-old was told by Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust that it only provided Sutent for "exceptional cases", and ruled Mr Crabb's case was not exceptional.

Despite planning to appeal, Mr Crabb has decided to pay for the drug privately - costing about 3,400 every six weeks - because his condition is deteriorating.

The former bricklayer only has enough money to last until the new year.

Mr Crabb's wife, Diane, said: "I think it's disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful. Why do we have to pay for it when it should be available on the NHS?"

In a statement, Oxfordshire PCT said a specialist cancer panel, including clinicians with specialist knowledge, had been set up in April 2008 up to review applications.

"Each patient's case is considered on its own merits in the light of all available clinical information.

"Oxfordshire PCT is currently funding two patients for Sunitinib [Sutent]. These were approved as exceptions to the current policy."


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