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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Nurse wins breast cancer drug row
Barbara Clark
Barbara Clark was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year
A former nurse has won her battle to get the breast cancer drug Herceptin prescribed on the NHS.

Barbara Clark, 49, from Bridgwater, Somerset, faced having to sell her home to pay privately for the drug.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, but because the illness was not terminal, she was told she could not have the treatment.

Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust has now ruled she can, after "looking very carefully at her circumstances".

Herceptin is widely used on patients whose breast cancer is at an advanced stage, or those who are terminally ill.

Because I've got exceptional needs, because I've got a child with a life-limiting condition, they felt it was extremely difficult for me
Barbara Clark

Tests have shown it can greatly extend sufferers' life expectancy, but it has yet to be approved for use on women in the early stages of the illness.

Ms Clark had threatened to use the Human Rights Act to force the primary care trust (PCT) to prescribe the drug.

After a meeting with her, the trust has now decided to allow Ms Clark to have the drug on the NHS.

The trust's chief executive, Alan Carpenter, said: "The PCT has looked very carefully at Ms Clark's circumstances and believes it is in her best interests to receive Herceptin at this stage of her treatment."

'Floodgates'

Ms Clark told the BBC she was delighted with the news.

She said: "Because I've got exceptional needs, because I've got a child with a life-limiting condition, they felt it was extremely difficult for me.

"He (her child) has nowhere else to go and no family of his own, so they thought it was an exceptional circumstance."

There is very clear evidence that Herceptin has the potential to make a huge difference to as many as 10,000 women in the UK every year
Clara MacKay
Breast Cancer Care

The decision may lead to other health trusts having to offer the drug - which can cost up to 40,000 privately - for women in their care who are in the early stages of the disease.

Ms Clark's lawyer said the case would mean PCTs would have to think carefully about who they prescribed the drug to.

Stephen Grosz said the ruling would not "open the floodgates" to hundreds of claims, but would stop trusts issuing a blanket "no" to all early-stage breast cancer sufferers.

The decision was welcomed by cancer charities, who called on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to approve the drug as quickly as possible.

'Huge difference'

Clara MacKay, director of policy and research at Breast Cancer Care, said: "This ruling is a tremendous win for Barbara Clark and a real sign that PCTs are listening to patients.

"There is clear evidence that Herceptin has the potential to make a huge difference to as many as 10,000 women in the UK every year following a diagnosis of breast cancer for the first time."

NICE said it was only able to issue guidance on drugs that have been licensed.

When a licensing application is made, it will begin appraising the use of Herceptin for use on early breast cancer.

The drug's manufacturer, Roche, has said it is likely to apply for a licence next year.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Barbara Clark explains why she battled for the drug



SEE ALSO:
Woman sells home for cancer drugs
08 Jun 05 |  Somerset


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