Refusal to give new breast cancer drug lands health authority in court

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British health secretary Patricia Hewitt has become embroiled in a row over the provision of the revolutionary breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Following the refusal of the local health trust to provide 41 year old Elaine Barber with the breast cancer drug Herceptin, Ms Barber from Staffordshire, will now take the health trust to the High Court and the case is expected be heard within a week.

Apparently North Stoke Primary Care Trust (PCT) told Elaine Barber it was not convinced the drug was safe or cost-effective, while Health Secretary Hewitt said that this ruling conflicts with decisions made by other Trusts.

Hewitt had earlier confirmed that PCTs should not refuse to fund Herceptin solely on the grounds of its cost, and only last month ministers said all women with early stage breast cancer would be tested to see if the drug would be of help.

It appears that Ms Hewitt is "very concerned" by the trust's decision not to give the drug to the mother-of-four on the NHS, and has asked the trust to show the Department the evidence they have used as the basis of their decision not to fund Herceptin.

An urgent meeting with the PCT and SHA has been arranged to discuss their approach to funding Herceptin.

However in a statement the trust has said it has reviewed in detail the published evidence of the clinical effectiveness of Herceptin in early breast cancer but does not feel the drug is cost-effective within the finite health resources available for North Stoke patients.

The trust believes the introduction of the drug would be premature as a routine treatment, and would seriously affect the availability of care to other patients.

Ms Barber has reportedly said she is being "left to die" after losing an appeal.

While the drug is currently licensed only for use in women with advanced breast cancer, an application to extend the drug's licence to cover other suitable breast cancer patients will be submitted next February.

At present PCTs can fund Herceptin treatment for women with early stage breast cancer, if they wish.

Research has shown Herceptin can reduce the risk of tumours returning in women with early stage breast cancer.

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