Scots driven south by lack of cheap cancer drugs

Johann Lamont claimed that Scotland was 'in danger of exporting health refugees'. Picture: Greg Macvean
Johann Lamont claimed that Scotland was 'in danger of exporting health refugees'. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A CANCER patient is considering moving to England to get free access to drugs she cannot be prescribed on the NHS in Scotland.

Maureen Fleming, 63, was diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago, but has been refused the drug Cetuximab by Scotland’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The grandmother of ten said she and husband Ian were now considering relocating to Newcastle, where consultants say she may get the life-prolonging treatment on the NHS.

Their plight was raised with Alex Salmond during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood yesterday, when Labour claimed Scotland’s health boards are “in danger of exporting health refugees” to England. The couple watched from the public gallery as Labour leader Johann Lamont challenged the First Minister on the availability of cancer drugs in Scotland.

Mrs Fleming, from Bonhill, West Dunbartonshire, said paying for the treatment privately costs about £10,000. The couple say they are already looking for rented accommodation in Newcastle and may have to move within the next few weeks.

Mrs Fleming, a mother of three, said: “If you can afford to pay for the treatment, you get it. If you can’t, you don’t. An option for us is to relocate down south where we can get this drug.

“I would just like to know why you can’t get it on the NHS when others get it.”

The row came after a small survey of oncologists and specialists treating blood diseases found more than a third knew of patients in Scotland moving to England to receive treatment.

Mr Fleming, 65, a former shipyard worker, said it was a “probability rather than a possibility” that the couple would have to move to Newcastle.

Campaigners have called for a Cancer Drugs Fund in Scotland to pay for cancer treatments such as Cetuximab, to match a £200 million-a-year system in England.

But SNP ministers have resisted the move, which some opposition MSPs say could be paid for by scrapping universal free prescriptions north of the Border.

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said access to drugs on the NHS “shouldn’t rest on where you live” as he called on minister to improve treatment in Scotland. He said: “All cancer patients in Scotland must have confidence that they will receive the treatment that their doctors want to prescribe – no strings attached.”

Ms Lamont said while Cetuximab was free in England, cancer patients in Scotland had to pay about £3,000 a month for it.

The Labour leader said the NHS spent £7.2m a year on prescriptions for paracetamol, cash that would give 200 patients a year’s supply of Cetuximab.