Barbara Clark, a 49-year-old mother of two from Somerset, was told yesterday that she would begin receiving Herceptin within a couple of weeks after the ruling by a committee. Mrs Clark said she was delighted by the news, which followed her threat to invoke the Human Rights Act to enforce access to the drug. She had been told that without the treatment she could be dead within months.
Still recovering from her latest bout of chemotherapy, Mrs Clark called for all women who could benefit about 10,000 newly diagnosed patients a year also to be given Herceptin, which is now only available for those with advanced breast cancer and which costs the NHS £19,500 per patient for a year's course of treatment. "This isn't just about me, it never has been," she said. "I'm looking at the bigger picture. I now just hope this treatment will be extended to other women."
Cancer charities said that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), the body which decides which drugs should be available on the NHS, has become too slow and bureaucratic. A dossier compiled by the charity CancerBacup found that more than 20 of the latest and best cancer treatments that have been licensed for use in Britain have not yet been assessed by Nice and were therefore being denied to patients who cannot pay for them privately.
This was the grim choice Mrs Clark faced after being diagnosed with early-stage but aggressive breast cancer in February. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy, which has put the cancer into remission, but doctors warned that it was highly likely that the tumours would return.
Mrs Clark, a children's nurse, knew that Herceptin could halve the risk of the cancer returning and asked about having it prescribed. She was told that Nice had approved it for use in patients with advanced breast cancer, but not for those in the early stages.
She put her house up for sale and began trying to raise the £40,000 cost of being prescribed Herceptin privately, but then decided to challenge the NHS's stance. She threatened to use the Human Rights Act or take her case to the European Court of Human Rights in an attempt to force the Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust (PCT) to give her the drug.
The PCT's exceptional treatment panel decided that Mrs Clark's " exceptional personal circumstances" warranted her being given the drug. She had told the panel how her 11-year-old foster son has an incurable lung disease and is unlikely to live past his twenties.
Alan Carpenter, chief executive of the Somerset Coast PCT, said: "The primary care trust has looked very carefully at Mrs Clark's individual circumstances and believes that it is in her best interests to receive Herceptin at this stage of her treatment."
While clearly pleased that she has won her battle, Mrs Clark insisted that women in her position should not have to go down the same route to receive such life-saving drugs. She said: "There are lots of women with exceptional need everyone has the same need to life."
Derryn Borley, head of cancer support services at CancerBacup, said: " Now that one PCT has made Herceptin available to women with early breast cancer, the Department of Health must urgently consider making it available to all women who can benefit.Reuse content