Patients with rare cancers are being left to die due to a postcode lottery over who gets access to drugs, research out today suggests.

A study from the Rarer Cancers Forum found wide variations across England in the number of patients granted access to medicines. The charity obtained full details under the Freedom of Information Act from 62 of England's 152 primary care trusts.

It revealed that 100 per cent of applications from patients were rejected in some areas of the country, but in other areas every single one was approved.

A total of 96 per cent of patients living in Mid Essex had their requests approved, while everyone in neighbouring South West Essex had theirs rejected. Overall, one in four exceptional requests for cancer treatment was denied. The charity extrapolated the statistics to give a suggestion of how many patients across England may have been denied treatment. The figure was 1,314.

The charity's chief executive, Penny Wilson-Webb, said: "The NHS should be available to all who need it. Yet 1,300 cancer patients were denied the treatment that could have made all the difference to them. This audit shows that the exceptional cases process is in chaos and patients are suffering."

She said thousands of cancer patients had been forced to plead for their lives since October 2006, the time covered by the survey. "There has to be a better way. We urge the Government to accept our 10-point plan to end this bizarre and demeaning lottery."

Last week the National Institute for Clinical Excellence rejected four drugs for treating advanced kidney cancer.

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