Thompsons Solicitors and UNISON have today welcomed the decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that eligible patients with early stage breast cancer will receive Herceptin on the NHS.

NICE has rejected an appeal by Newbury and Community NHS which said it was perverse to recommend the drug based on the available evidence. The body has instead published its Final Guidelines on the use of Herceptin in early stage breast cancer, recommending that it be used for such patients.

There is no opportunity for a further appeal against NICE’s decision, unless it is subjected to a High Court judicial review.

Thompsons' and UNISON's campaign for Herceptin

UNISON and Thompsons have campaigned to make Herceptin generally available to patients and have brought a judicial review against the decision of Bristol North NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT) not to provide Herceptin to Elisabeth Cooke, a 60 year old nurse from Bristol.

The High Court ordered in February that the PCT should provide Herceptin to Ms Cooke, pending the outcome of her case. The case is ongoing and there is to be a Permission Hearing on 8 September.

NHS Trusts are now under a statutory duty to make the drug available to those patients who are eligible.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, said: “UNISON welcomes NICE’s decision, which reflects the principle that life saving drugs should not be rationed or dependant on how much they cost. Any delay in Herceptin’s availability would have caused enormous suffering to women who hold out this treatment as a major hope for treating their breast cancer. NICE is to be congratulated for dismissing the appeal.”

John Watkins of Thompsons Solicitors added: “It is heartening to know that the appeal was dismissed on all points. Herceptin had been the subject of rigorous appraisals by both the European Medicines Agency, which gave it a licence in record time, and by NICE whose draft guidelines and recommendations have been upheld. It was circulated that following the draft guidelines in June, the final guidelines would have been published in late July. This is the time frame everyone was working towards. As such there has been a delay of about a month which is a long time as a cancer sufferer and potentially fatal if the window of opportunity where the drug could help has passed. The appeal was without merit and has only served to delay the availability of this life saving treatment.”

Elisabeth Cooke said today: “This is wonderful news and perhaps now the nightmare wait and anxiety for patients who couldn’t afford to finance their course of treatment will finally be over. I now call on all NHS Primary Care Trusts to implement this guidance immediately”.