UNISON and solicitors Thompsons have today condemned moves by an NHS Primary Care Trust which will severely delay thousands of women who are suffering from breast cancer from receiving the drug Herceptin.

Newbury and Community Primary Care Trust lodged an appeal against the draft guidelines published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). The draft guidelines were published on 9 June and recommended that all women with early stage HER2 positive breast cancer who have completed standard therapy such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and who fit an eligibility criteria should be provided with the drug by the NHS.

Many NHS PCTs have stated that they will not provide the treatment until NICE publishes it’s final guidelines. This was due to be issued this month. However, Newbury and Community Primary Care Trust have appealed the recommendation contained within the draft guidelines as it accused the NICE as being unclear as to patient treatment, cost effectiveness and potential risks. If the appeal is upheld then it is possible that NICE will have to start another consultation process regarding the use of Herceptin in early stage breast cancer. Even if the appeal is dismissed then the publication of the Final Guidelines could be delayed by months.

Campaign for Herceptin

UNISON and Thompsons have campaigned to make Herceptin generally available to patients who have a clinical need for the drug. Thompsons and UNISON have brought a Judicial Review in the High Court against the decision of Bristol North NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) not to provide Herceptin to Elisabeth Cooke. Ms Cooke is a 60 year old nurse from Bristol.

Ms Cooke was refused Herceptin by Bristol North NHS PCT in September 2005. Thompsons acted on her behalf in applying for “exceptional funding”. This was turned down by the PCT’s Exceptional Funding Panel and again at a subsequent appeal. A Judicial Review application was then issued in the High Court on Ms Cooke’s behalf and the Honourable Mr Justice Silber Ordered on 1st February 2006 that the PCT should provide Herceptin to Ms Cooke pending the outcome of her case. The case is ongoing.

Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary said: “Life saving drugs should not be rationed or dependant on how much they cost. This delay will cause enormous suffering to women who hold out this treatment as a major hope for treating their breast cancer.”

John Watkins, Ms Cooke’s solicitor at Thompsons in Cardiff said:

“I am extremely disappointed that Newbury and Community PCT have taken this step. Herceptin for use in early stage breast cancer has undergone rigorous reviews by the European Medicines Agency and NICE. Both bodies have recommended it’s use in early stage breast cancer. The drug has also been the subject of several randomised large scale trials which have shown the overwhelming benefit of the treatment for early stage breast cancer. This appeal means that thousands of women who are suffering from breast cancer will not be getting this treatment for many months at the earliest.”

Lis Cooke said today:

“I am very upset that many people in my position will now not be getting this treatment for many months. Their hopes have been dashed yet again due to healthcare priorities being drawn up by accountants and ignoring the expertise of consultant oncologists who wish to prescribe this drug. This PCT is several million in the red and they appear to be prioritising the balancing of their books before providing ‘best patient care’.”

More information about fight for Herceptin

To read previous news stories published by Thompsons about the Herceptin Campaign, visit "Thompsons and Trade Union campaign for Herceptin", "Thompsons and UNISON Welcomes Herceptin Ruling", "Bristol breast cancer patient threatens court action to get Herceptin drug".

To read a subsequent news story published by Thompsons about Herceptin, visit "Thompsons Solicitors and UNISON welcome NICE final guidance on Herceptin".