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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 16:01 GMT
Woman gets cancer drug in U-turn
Elaine Barber
Ms Barber said: 'human life should not be measured in pounds'
A mother-of-four from Staffordshire who lost an appeal to be given the breast cancer drug Herceptin on the NHS will get the treatment paid for after all.

North Stoke Primary Care Trust (PCT) said on Wednesday because of Elaine Barber's exceptional circumstances she should be prescribed the drug.

It rejected her appeal on Monday saying it was not convinced of the drug's safety or cost-effectiveness.

Ms Barber, 41, said she was "over the moon" at the PCT's change of heart.

I can't believe that I have been put through all this just so the health authority can balance the books
Elaine Barber, cancer patient

She had lodged papers against the PCT at the High Court last week.

Ms Barber was told the news after meeting the PCT's chief executive Mike Ridley on Wednesday.

She said: "I am absolutely over the moon. I hope that the very many women like me who just want to be given the chance to live will also be given funding for the drug treatment.

"I can't believe that I have been put through all this just so the health authority can balance the books. Human life cannot and should not be measured in pounds."

In a statement the PCT said it recognised the process has been time consuming and regretted the distress that it caused to Ms Barber.

It said its original decision was not based on the cost of the product but the trust always faced "difficult choices about which services represent the best use of finite resources."

Government involved

There was no budget for prescribing adjuvent Herceptin this year and that it would cost the city of Stoke on Trent about 700,000 in the year 2006/7, the trust added.

Yogi Amin, Ms Barber's solicitor from Irwin Mitchell, said they had intended to take the case all the way through the legal process.

PCTs should not refuse [Herceptin] on the grounds of cost alone
Patricia Hewitt, Health Secretary

"Other patients in this situation being refused the drug treatment will have a legal claim to challenge their health authority," he said.

Before the confirmation on Wednesday Judge Mr Justice Sullivan had ordered the PCT to fund and provide Ms Barber with her next Herceptin treatment (due on Thursday) because an urgent hearing could not be arranged at the High Court, said the solicitor.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt became involved in the row on Tuesday, saying the PCT's original ruling conflicted with decisions made by other trusts.

On Wednesday she told the BBC News website: "My position is the same as it was a fortnight ago that PCTs should not refuse [Herceptin] on the grounds of cost alone."

But she said despite Ms Barber's case it is still up to individual PCTs to decide whether they want to fund it.

Lancet warning

Ms Barber's doctor had recommended that she receive the drug but she was refused it by the PCT on the grounds of resources, licensing issues and a lack of evidence of the drug's success.

On Monday the PCT said: "At this stage the evidence of this (Herceptin) 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."

Earlier on Wednesday an editorial in the medical journal The Lancet said claims over the effectiveness and safety of Herceptin should be treated with more caution.

It warned that political and media pressure should not undermine the usual process of checking new drugs.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the decision to prescribe Herceptin must be made by a clinician.

"PCTs must not withhold funding where treatment is recommended. No woman should have to go through unnecessary stress and anxiety to get access to this life-saving drug," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Why the primary care trust changed its mind



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