Give bowel cancer patients the new drugs they need

Mark Flannagan of Beating Bowel Cancer. Picture: Contributed
Mark Flannagan of Beating Bowel Cancer. Picture: Contributed
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LAST week the NHS in Scotland marked the 65th anniversary of its foundation. That’s 65 years since every Scot received the assurance that they would be protected with dignity and compassion from the cradle to the grave; a commitment maintained by the present government.

Only last Friday, whilst on a visit to Wishaw General Hospital, the Health Secretary Alex Neil pledged that the NHS will remain free at the point of need for everyone while the SNP is in government. He also said that anyone who comes for treatment will get the care they need.

Yet there is a group of Scottish bowel cancer patients who would be forgiven for wondering why, if their NHS doctor wishes to prescribe a treatment that is available free of charge on the NHS in England, they are being forced to sell their homes or spend their life savings in order to fund the treatment that will keep them alive.

If they are to have any chance of getting the drugs that could extend their lives on the NHS, many are left with no other option but to use the media to plead with their local health board; only to have their requests turned down on the grounds of cost.

Last week, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee were very critical of the current system, which is failing cancer patients. They universally agreed that changes are needed and, along with patients, they want to see the Government taking immediate and decisive action to solve the problem.

The Health Secretary needs to honour the pledge he made last week. He needs to give cancer patients the peace of mind that their requests for the drugs that their doctor thinks will help them are not rejected simply on grounds of cost, and are not subject to months of bureaucracy and unnecessary appeals.

So, as it celebrates this latest milestone birthday, the NHS in Scotland must be prepared to guarantee all of the treatments that clinicians think are best for patients, irrespective of cost.

The time for action has finally arrived; not a moment too soon for cancer patients who can ill-afford to wait a moment longer.

• Mark Flannagan is chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer

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