A kidney transplant patient about to sail round the world has been told the NHS will not pay for drugs she will need during her trip.

Jacquie Dowding, 35, is making the journey to increase awareness about successful transplant operations and to raise funds for other patients. She must now find pounds 2,800 to buy the drugs needed during the 18-month voyage.

Miss Dowding, a lecturer in hairdressing and consultant trichologist (hair specialist), is due to sail from the South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe, for New Zealand via Tenerife, Antigua and the Panama Canal, in two weeks. She and her female captain are the only crew on board the 31ft sloop Maleni, and she believes she is the first female transplant recipient to attempt such a crossing.

In 1985 Miss Dowding suffered renal failure and was admitted to St Bartholomew's hospital. She was found to have a kidney function of only two per cent. Two years later, she had a successful transplant operation at Bart's. She now takes three types of immuno-suppressant drugs to stop her body from rejecting the donor organ.

Miss Dowding has been planning her voyage for a year. Through it she will raise money for the Transplant Patients' Trust, a nationwide hardship fund for people awaiting or recovering from operations.

She has arranged to have regular medical check-ups throughout her voyage and had asked her GP to provide her with all the drugs she would need, which would be sent by courier for collection en route.

But last week she learned her doctor had been refused permission to prescribe her more than three months' worth of drugs on the grounds that after that time travellers cease to be classified as NHS patients.

A letter from Dr Peter Elliott, medical advisor to Redbridge and Waltham Forest Family Health Services Auth-ority, warns the GP: 'If you were to prescribe them you would be in breach of your terms and conditions, and likely to be investigated under the expensive prescribing regulations.

Yesterday, Miss Dowding said she still intended to go on the voyage, but had no idea how she would afford the medication.

'All my savings have gone into covering costs for the trip. This would have been bad news when I was first planning to go, but coming just as I'm due to leave, it's a nightmare.

'I'm making this trip to prove that if you have had a transplant you can do normal things. I am an example of the very best the NHS can offer, and yet they are throwing obstacles in my path.

'I am angry, upset, flabbergasted. This has been a real blow. This is the first time since my operation that I have planned anything. It's hard to get excited about it now because suddenly, I have a real crisis to deal with.

Miss Dowding, vice-chair of Bart's Renal Patients' Asso-ciation and a founder member of the campaign to save the hospital from closure, is urgently trying to raise money to pay for the drugs. Her case has been taken up by the British Kidney Patient Association, and by shadow health minister Dawn Primarolo, who has asked questions in the Commons on the issue.

Ms Primarolo said: 'This is a mean-spirited interpretation of the rules. I am demanding to know what the situation is when someone is absent from Britain but not visiting any country for lengthy periods.

Dr Elliott said while he sympathised with Miss Dowding, the FHSA had to act within existing regulations.

'There are firm rules in life. It's like driving on the correct side of the road - you have to do it. Without a cut-off point you could have people living in Australia for 20 years who have their medication provided on the NHS.

'Jacquie should have been told of the situation when she was first planning her trip.

(Photograph omitted)