Sunday, 21 September 2008

Dying woman spent last days fighting for cancer drugs

Next month, the Government will publish its review of NHS policy on cancer drugs, determining whether the health service will pay towards the care of patients who pay for medications the state refuses to fund. Ministers were forced to examine the issue after a public outcry over the death of Linda O'Boyle, who was denied free NHS care after paying for a life-extending bowel cancer drug. Since then, the whole system of drug rationing has become the subject of intense public debate.

Sarah Perez, who died in June aged 40, five days before the review was announced, was also denied drugs which could have extended her life. Campaigners believe her story is one of the "most inhumane" examples of the way the health service bureaucracy takes decisions about life and death.

Sarah Jane Perez was 33-years-old and just back from her honeymoon with her husband James when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2001.

Within a year, her hopes of having a family had been dashed. A hysterectomy was followed by an operation on her bowel, and, a year later, a stem cell transplant when she was diagnosed with leukaemia.

For six years she underwent repeated courses of chemotherapy and treatment as tumours spread to her liver. Mrs Perez, from Enfield in North London, tried to live as normal a life as possible, running a jewellery business she had set up in London's Hatton Garden before she fell ill.

But by January of this year, her cancer had spread further. Mrs Perez' consultant said there was only one hope left to secure her some extra time; a drug called cetuximab, shown to have given patients an average of four extra months of life in cases which responded to treatment.

The previous year, the NHS rationing body, the National Insitute of Health and Clinical Excellence, had ruled against widespread use of the drug, which it said was not "cost effective" at £700 a week. However, primary care trusts are not allowed to institute blanket bans on any treatment, and Mrs Perez's consultant hoped to secure the treatment for her as an exceptional case, particularly given his patient's youthful age which meant that the cancer was progressing aggressively, but might also respond more quickly to treatment.

When Enfield PCT refused to fund the drug, branded Erbitux, Mrs Perez asked to invoke her right to appeal against the decision, setting out why she should be treated under exceptional circumstances. Instead, in March, she was told that the PCT had already held the appeal, maintaining its original decision, despite the fact neither she nor her consultant had been given the chance to submit any evidence stating her case.

Read the rest of this shocking article here