Hospitals fight NHS ban on patients using private drugs
Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Editor
HOSPITAL chiefs are demanding an urgent review of the governmentâ€™s policy of withdrawing National Health Service care from patients who pay privately for additional cancer medicines.
The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital chief executives and managers, says denying NHS treatment to patients who pay for top-up drugs is â€œperverseâ€ and against â€œcommon senseâ€.
The move comes after it emerged that women suffering from breast cancer have been threatened with losing NHS care if they seek to improve their chances by paying privately for an extra drug.
Ministers claim that to allow patients to pay for top-up drugs would be unfair on those who cannot afford them and lead to a two-tier NHS. Their policy was laid down in guidance issued this summer but was criticised last week after The Sunday Times highlighted the case of Colette Mills, 58, from near Stokesley, North Yorkshire.
Mills, a former nurse, has been told that if she pays for the cancer drug Avastin, which the NHS does not fund, she will have to foot the Â£10,000 total monthly bill for her care.
Another breast cancer patient, Debbie Hirst, 56, from St Ives, Cornwall, has now revealed that she, too, has been told that if she wants to pay for Avastin in addition to her NHS medicines, she will be forced to pay for all her care.
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust issued the threat despite three other patients being allowed to top up their NHS care. The trust says the three had started their private treatment before the guidance was issued.
Hirst, a grandmother, said: â€œWe put our house up for sale in order to pay for this drug. My only option now is to take the treatment they offer on the NHS or go private, which would be totally unaffordable.â€
Nigel Edwards, the NHS Confederationâ€™s director of policy, said: â€œThe position appears to run counter to common sense. This should ring alarm bells that something is wrong with the policy.â€
Edwards said patients are already regularly combining private and NHS care. For example, thousands mix NHS dental care with treatments available only privately.
Co-payments should be allowed, he said, provided they did not deprive other patients of resources, and those paying for the drugs are well informed of their limitations.
It was also reported yesterday that a 62-year-old woman had won a legal battle for the right to be treated with Avastin for bowel cancer. She will pay for the drug while Cumbria Primary Care Trust funds the rest of her care.
Mills and Hirst are to launch a campaign for all patients to have the right to pay for medicines not funded on the NHS. They are backed by the Patients Association, Doctors for Reform and Saga, the organisation for the over-fifties.
Andrew Goodsell, Saga chief executive, said: â€œPeople are less concerned about a two-tier health service than whether they have the opportunity to resolve what can be a life or death situation.â€
The health department said: â€œIt is a fundamental principle of the NHS, supported by all the main political parties, that treatment should be free at the point of need. Co-payments would undermine this.â€