Leaders: Health funds remedy in prescription charges

SCOTLAND’S treatment of cancer patients has been thrown into stark relief by the moving case of 63-year-old Maureen Fleming, a retired secretary from West Dunbartonshire.

Picture: Jon Savage

Mrs Fleming was diagnosed with bowel cancer six years ago, but has been refused the drug Cetuximab by NHS Greater Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest health board. Paying for the treatment privately would cost some £10,000 a quarter. As a result she and her husband are now considering relocating to Newcastle where consultants say she may get the life-prolonging treatment on the NHS. Little wonder she feels let down. Why, she asks, can’t you not get it on the NHS in Scotland when others get it?

First Minister Alex Salmond was directly challenged on the availability of cancer drugs in Scotland in the Holyrood parliament yesterday when Mrs. Fleming’s plight was raised by Labour leader Johann Lamont. Such individual cases are always moving and difficult. This was especially so yesterday when the First Minister had to defend the policy with Mrs Fleming in the public gallery. Setting aside the party political sparring between Labour and the SNP, with the Labour leader charging that Scotland’s health boards were “in danger of exporting health refugees”, the case raises searching questions about the rules governing the availability of cancer drugs; whether expensive drugs for other serious conditions should also be freely provided; whether it is right that the Scottish Government should champion a policy of free prescriptions, enjoyed by many who can reasonably afford the charge and for conditions much less serious while cancer treatment is denied; and whether Scotland should adopt a special cancer fund as has been the case in 

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Sadly this is no individual anomaly. More than a third of oncologists say they know of patients in Scotland having to move to England to receive treatment. And given the projected growth in Scotland’s pensioner population, these numbers are expected to grow.

Health policy is devolved in Scotland and, as the First Minister pointed out, countries across the world have to make difficult decisions about the allocation of scarce resources. So it is proving here, even with health spending protected in real terms.

There have been calls for a Cancer Drugs Fund in Scotland to pay for drugs such as Cetuximab to match the £200 million-a-year system in England. This option has been championed by the Scottish Conservatives, with the money raised by scrapping or limiting free prescription provision.

There are doubts about the Cancer Drug Fund, deciding that cancer sufferers get priority over other serious illnesses is a hard decision to defend. There are no easy decisions about allocating spending in health cases. Except one: universally free prescriptions are not a wise use of hard-pressed health funds.

Farewell Becks, gentleman and player

Scots may not have had cause to cheer every move by England hero David Beckham on the football pitch. Indeed his name will prompt some agonising memories. But there is no denying the superlative qualities he brought to football. He was one of the greatest and most skillful players, with a global reputation. Millions worldwide craved to be able to “bend it like Beckham”.

He has been a superb sporting role model both on and off the pitch, serving as an ambassador for his country and lending support for hosting sports events. And third, he has been one of football’s most courteous players, maintaining a persona of self-effacing professionalism – with the odd high-profile lapse.

It is for these reasons that his retirement should occasion acknowledgement and his contribution respected and applauded by lovers of football far beyond the stadiums of Old Trafford and Wembley. For that persona has become even welcome in an era of sadly declining standards of football behaviour. Shoving, shirt-pulling, fouling, verbal abuse, rolling on the ground as Sir Alex Ferguson recently described one incident “like a dying swan” and most recently the biting of opponents have all come to mar a sport that still claims to be “the beautiful game”.

It is further testimony to Sir Alex Ferguson’s brilliant management that he brought the talents of David Beckham to the fore. And it is examples like this that sustain the affections of millions for football and fire the hope that others will be brought forward to dazzle and delight. We hope that, at such a relatively young age, David Beckham has much more yet to give in a football stewardship and sponsoring role.