I have had to tackle a few cases at work in the past couple of years when constituents have been denied treatment because of the costs of the drugs that are required. Wet Age-Related Magular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the UK with 20,000 sufferers. There is a drug that can help in restoring vision though it is not a full cure. Lucentis costs a fair whack though at £28,000 for a course of 14 injections.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) have changed their mind about the drug, originally refusing to allow its use on the grounds of cost. However because of the bureaucratic way that drugs are licensed, final guidelines will not be published until the autumn. Some Primary Care Trusts have started prescibing Lucentis in anticipation. Others refuse. Some will prescribe it after you have gone blind in one eye. The universal health system has not existed in this country for many years except in the eyes of a few politicians. We have a postcode lottery.
In the light of this, I was concerned to read an article in the Sunday Times which explains how the Labour Government will not allow patients treatment on the NHS if they have paid for part of their treatment privately. One patient who had paid £9,500 for some drugs to combat their bowel cancer was billed £16,000 for previous treatment and was then denied treatment in her final months before she died.
Where else does the Government run such a policy? If people who have a Freedom Pass decide to take a taxi for a particular journey, does Ruth Kelly march round and tear up the concessionary travel pass? Does she take away your keys on the roadside when you come to the end of the toll section of the M6? What about children whose parents pay for private tutoring or extra books? Should you be denied the state pension because you work for a company that gives you a pension scheme?
The irony is that the NHS will treat addicts who have paid for drugs that make them ill, but will not treat people who just want to get better or have a better quality of life in their dying days.
Alan Johnson refuses to countenance change because he believes that it will lead to a two-tier health service. It is no accident that the National Health Service is the only one of its kind in the world. The longer that political dogma ensures that the ‘jewel in the crown’ is above real reform, the longer people will suffer without knowing why.