Sunday, 1 June 2008

NHS scandal: dying cancer victim was forced to pay

A woman dying of cancer was denied free National Health Service treatment in her final months because she had paid privately for a drug to try to prolong her life.

Linda O’Boyle was told that as she had paid for private treatment she was banned from free NHS care.

She is believed to have been the first patient to die after fighting for the right to top up NHS treatment with a privately purchased cancer medicine that the health service refused to provide.

News of her death at the age of 64 has emerged as six other patients launch a legal action to trigger a test case that they hope would force the NHS to allow them to top up their care with private drugs.

Three of the cases, involving women suffering from liver and bowel cancer, are expected to prompt a judicial review of the government’s ban on “co-payment”, as the buying of private treatment while under NHS care is called.

Some cancer drugs not yet available on the NHS can markedly increase the chance of survival. But Alan Johnson, the health secretary, claims that co-payment would create a two-tier NHS, with preferential treatment for patients who could afford the extra drugs. Last year he issued guidance to NHS trusts ordering them not to permit patients to pay for additional medicines.

This weekend Brian, O’Boyle’s husband, said he was appalled by the way she was treated. He recalled his wife as a woman with an infectious laugh who had given a lifetime of service to the NHS as an assistant occupational therapist. The couple, who had three sons and four grandchildren, lived in Billericay, Essex.

After she developed bowel cancer and began having chemotherapy, doctors told her she should boost her chances of fighting the disease by adding another drug, cetuximab. It is not routinely funded by the NHS.

When she decided to use her savings to pay for it, Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust withdrew her free treatment, including the chemotherapy drug she was receiving.

The trust said yesterday: “A patient can choose whether to continue with the treatment available under the NHS or opt to go privately for a different treatment regime. It is explained to the patient that they can either have their treatment under the NHS or privately, but not both in parallel.”

Brian O’Boyle, 74, who worked as an NHS manager for 30 years running rehabilitation services for the mentally ill, said: “We were happy to pay for this drug, cetuximab, and to give the health service what it cost to buy it and deliver the treatment, but they said they couldn’t do that. That is appalling.”

He added: “When she heard there was something that could extend her life, of course my wife jumped at it. Linda was taking lots of other drugs that she had previously been given on the NHS but \ we had to pay for all of them.

“It was stressful enough for Linda having cancer without her having all this stress on top of it.”

He has the backing of John Baron, the local Conservative MP and a former shadow health minister. “The NHS was very wrong to deny care and treatment to Linda O’Boyle. She has been penalised by an NHS system that is grossly unfair. This is morally wrong,” Baron said.

link to article

Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Editor