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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 18:51 GMT
Mother refused breast cancer drug
Elaine Barber
Ms Barber said the decision does not make sense
A mother-of-four from Staffordshire who has lost her appeal to be given the breast cancer drug Herceptin on the NHS says she is being "left to die".

Elaine Barber says North Stoke Primary Care Trust (PCT) told her on Monday it is not convinced the drug is safe and does not think it is cost-effective.

Ms Barber, 41, has now taken the PCT to the High Court.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said she was very concerned and has arranged a meeting with the trust for this week.

'Significant advance'

Last month ministers said all women with early stage breast cancer would be tested to see if the drug would help.

Papers were lodged last week calling for a judicial review.

Ms Barber's solicitors, Irwin Mitchell, told BBC News on Tuesday they expect the case to be heard within the next seven days.

The firm said if she was successful, it would pave the way for thousands of women to get the treatment free.

Responding to the trust's doubts over the safety of Herceptin, Ms Barber said: "I'm not concerned at all. There are numerous women that have been on this drug for quite a few years and they're fine.

It targets the HER2 protein, which can fuel the growth of breast tumours
Herceptin prevents this process happening
Around a fifth of breast cancers are HER2 positive
It is currently licensed for use in women with advanced breast cancer - where the disease has spread within the breast or to another organ
Early stage breast cancer refers to the first occurrence of the disease
The cost for one year's treatment with Herceptin is 19,500

"Is it safer to give me the drug or safer not to give it to me - and let me die? I know which option I prefer to take.

"I need this drug to help me survive - without it I will die."

The government said in October all women in England with early stage breast cancer would be tested to see if Herceptin could benefit them.

A statement from the PCT said: "The PCT has reviewed in detail the published evidence of the clinical effectiveness of Herceptin in early breast cancer and recognises that this has the potential to be a significant advance in treatment.

"At this stage however the evidence of this as a cost-effective use of the finite health resources available for North Stoke patients is not confirmed.

"It would therefore be premature to agree to introduce it as a routine treatment.

"To do so could seriously affect the availability of care to other patients, including those with other cancers."

Risk 'reduced'

Ms Hewitt said: "I have urgently asked the PCT to show the Department the evidence they have used as the basis of their decision not to fund Herceptin.

"It conflicts with decisions made by other PCTs around the country.

"A fortnight ago I made it clear that PCTs should not refuse to fund Herceptin solely on the grounds of its cost."

The drug is currently licensed only for use in women with advanced breast cancer.

An application to extend the drug's licence to cover other suitable breast cancer patients will be submitted next February.

Research has shown Herceptin can reduce the risk of tumours returning in women with early stage breast cancer.

Lack of funds

Primary care trusts can currently fund Herceptin treatment for women with early stage breast cancer, if they so wish.

Campaigners say lack of funds and lack of official approval mean many women who could benefit are being denied the treatment.

Before the government's announcement in October, former nurse Barbara Clark, from Somerset, was told she could have Herceptin on the NHS after taking her case to her local primary care trust.

Mrs Clark, 49, who has early stage breast cancer, had been originally told she would have to pay privately.

A spokesman for charity CancerBACUP said women with early breast cancer "will once again be extremely distressed and confused by this decision" and called for Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to intervene.

Emma Taggart, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said it was essential the decision was acted upon immediately as "experts estimate the drug could save the lives of around 1,000 women every year in the UK."

Cancer patient says she needs Herceptin to survive

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18 Oct 05 |  Cornwall
Breast cancer drug test for all
05 Oct 05 |  Health
Nurse wins breast cancer drug row
03 Oct 05 |  Somerset
Drug campaigners meeting minister
22 Sep 05 |  Staffordshire

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