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Another Victory for Deanne and Patients!

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Victory in battle to end drug lottery

By Neil Macfarlane

THE families of North-East cancer victims have welcomed news that the NHS will end the postcode lottery that denies patients access to vital drugs.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced that the new NHS Constitution, which is presented by Prime Minister Gordon Brown today, will stop unequal access to life-extending medication.

Patients across the region have found themselves barred from accessing drugs available elsewhere in the UK, as highlighted in a campaign by The Northern Echo to end the injustice.

They have also often had to wait for years before new medicines were approved by health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).

But Mr Johnson announced yesterday that the draft NHS Constitution, being published to mark 60 years of the NHS, would address the problems.

The constitution is part of a year-long review of the NHS by health minister and leading surgeon Lord Darzi, also being published today and likely to concentrate on improving quality and choice.


Wide variations in the availability of drugs between local health authorities have been one of the most consistent complaints from patients in recent years.

Mr Johnson said: "What we have heard from patients is that one of their major concerns is the perceived postcode lottery in access to drugs, that there are too many variations around who gets access to prescribed drugs and that these variations are a lottery depending on where you live.

"The draft constitution will address this by making it explicit that patients have the right to Nice- approved drugs, if clinically appropriate.

"We will also speed up the national process for appraising new drugs and make the process for local funding of drugs not appraised by Nice, or where Nice has yet to issue guidance, more transparent and consistent."

Primary health care trusts often refuse to prescribe expensive drugs that have not been approved by Nice, which means that patients then have to pay for the treatment themselves, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds a year.

Dave Hill, 46, from Darlington, died in December after a battle with lung cancer.

He was denied access to the new Tarceva treatment until the week before he died, even though it was available on the NHS in Scotland.

Mr Hill's widow, Tina, yesterday welcomed Mr Johnson's assertion that Nice

should be expected to make a decision on the suitability of new treatments "within a few months".

Mrs Hill, 49, said: "If Dave had been given the tablets he needed at the beginning, he might still be here today.

"We knew he was going to die, but the drugs could have prolonged his life for much longer than they did if we had had them earlier.

"We were told if we lived in Scotland, then Dave could have got the drug straight away. We even looked into moving up there just for the medication. It is such an unfair system, and any move to change it has to be good."

Cancer sufferer Kathleen Devonport, from Chilton, County Durham, had to wait eight months before she was prescribed the new drug Sutent, because Nice had not approved the treatment. After eight months on the medication, her tumours have reduced by 30 per cent.

Mrs Devonport, 66, said: "I think the Government's announcement will be a relief to a lot of people.

"If I can get access to this drug, I think everybody should. It makes me feel guilty when I think that I can get it but people living in other areas can't."

A spokesman for the patients' welfare group The Patients' Association said night that primary care trusts will need to provide more investment if they are to provide access to all drugs regardless of cost.

He said: "We welcome anything that ends the postcode lottery, but some trusts are already struggling and without more cash they could end up being legally held to account for drugs they cannot afford."

Although the proposed changes were welcomed by the Conservatives, their shadow health secretary said it was scandalous that the situation had existed in the first place.

Andrew Lansley told BBC1s The Politics Show said there had been failure of the system.

He said: "We have some of the best cancer research in the world in this country, but we have among the slowest uptake of new cancer drugs and we have one of the poorest five year survival rates for cancer and these things are not unrelated.

"So it is not just about a postcode lottery inside the UK, its about the comparisons one has to make between the kind of outcomes we are achieving in this country and the outcomes they are achieving in other countries.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "Whilst an increase in the speed of the Nice process would be very welcome, there are many drugs which have never been approved by Nice.

"It appears that for these drugs the postcode lottery will remain. Nice must be given the capacity not only to consider drugs faster but also to look at drugs already in use which have not been through the Nice approval process."

6:05am Monday 30th June 2008

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