'Private drugs reduced my tumour'

Laura Devlin A Bunwell cancer patient's anger at being denied drugs on the NHS was renewed when he discovered his tumour has reduced since taking the self-funded treatment.

Laura Devlin

A Norfolk cancer patient's anger at being denied drugs on the NHS was renewed last night after discovering his tumour has reduced since taking the self-funded treatment.

David Blackett, who has an advanced form of kidney cancer, spoke out after leading UK cancer experts accused a health watchdog of forcing patients to remortgage their homes to afford treatments freely available in Europe.

A group of 26 professors said they were “dismayed” at guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) to deny patients four kidney cancer drugs on the NHS because they are deemed too expensive.

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They said the decision showed it was time for a “radical change” in how the NHS makes decisions on what treatments are available for cancer sufferers.

The Nice guidance, which is subject to appeal, included Sutent, which Mr Blackett was recommended by his consultant.

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It means the 65-year-old from Bunwell, near Attleborough, and others like him will face the dilemma of paying thousands each month for a treatment which could prolong their life.

Mr Blackett is currently meeting the £3,000 monthly bill through his wife's health insurance which she gets through work - but his wife, 62, would like to be able to retire so that she can be there for her husband.

Sutent does not eradicate the disease but can halt its progress and add several months to a patient's life, but Mr Blackett said his most recent tests had shown his tumour had actually shrunk.

“I personally know the drugs are working. I'm now in the middle of my fifth cycle of drug and I had a consultation last week and my consultant said that my tumour has reduced considerably,” he said.

“It may only be by 11mm, but when you are dying of cancer that can mean the gift of several months.

“It gives me more reason to be angry with Nice. There are about 2,000 people in my position with advanced kidney cancer. It is inoperable and the only treatment they can have is this drug.”

In a letter to the Sunday Times, the professors wrote: "Once again Nice has shown how poorly it assesses new cancer treatments.

"Its economic formulae are simply not suitable for addressing cost effectiveness in this area of medicine.

"Mean survivals obscure the fact that some patients will obtain prolonged benefit from these drugs.'

The effect of the guidance would be to force patients to fund their own treatment, the oncologists argued.

"It is essential that Nice gets its sums right.

"We have already seen distraught patients remortgaging their houses, giving up pensions and selling cars simply to buy drugs that are freely available to those using health services in countries of comparable wealth.'

In a letter to the Sunday Times, the professors said the NHS spent less than two-thirds of the European average on cancer drugs.

They wrote: "It just can't be that everybody else around the world is wrong about access to innovative cancer care and the NHS right in rationing it so severely.”

It was a "tragedy” that Britain's leading role in cancer research was not being translated into treatment for all patients, they said.

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