Election `97: Drugs cash curbs may cause deaths

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The Independent Online
Dr Stephen Nussey, consultant endocrinologist at St George's hospital in Tooting, south London, says the refusal of health authorities and GP fundholders to pay for expensive drugs is causing unnecessary suffering and may have contributed to patient deaths.

"I had a 45-year-old patient who suffered from increasing confusion, poor memory and involuntary movements of his left arm and leg," he said.

"A brain scan showed a very large tumour in his pituitary gland. He had major surgery, but 21 days after the operation he was still drowsy, bed- bound and refusing to co-operate with the nurses.

"He was started on growth hormone and within a week he was transformed, walking round the ward and taking an active interest in his surroundings. He was discharged after two months.

"His GP, a fundholder, wrote to the health authority asking it to pay for the hormone, which costs up to pounds 10,000 a year.

"The GP said he was unwilling to spend 1/200th of his entire drug budget on one patient without additional help.

"The health authority refused and the growth hormone was stopped. The patient deteriorated markedly, especially mentally, and died at home five months after his operation.

"I cannot say the patient died because the hormone was withdrawn. But some patients are not getting hormone treatment despite clear benefits and the GP's letter makes it clear the decision is entirely financial.

"Health authorities are in effect saying `Yes, you can be treated for a pituitary tumour but if you survive it doesn't matter what your quality of life is like'."