English 'denied bone cancer drug'

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Bone cancer patients in England are to be denied a life-prolonging drug which is available across the border, it has been reported.

Velcade was approved for use in Scotland in 1994 but according to the Daily Mail, the National Health Service's drug rationing body will announce next week that it is refusing to fund its use in England.

The newspaper claims to have seen a leaked ruling by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, in which it says that the drug is more clinically effective than chemotherapy but is not regarded as "cost effective".

Patients, opposition politicians and health charities have accused the Government of discriminating against English patients.

Janice Wrigglesworth, 59, from Keighley in West Yorkshire - one of a group of three women with bone cancer from the town who call themselves the Velcade Three - told the newspaper: "Are they saying that a Scottish life is worth more than an English life?"

She and fellow sufferers Jacky Pickles, 44, and Marie Morton, 57, handed health secretary Patricia Hewitt a letter at the Labour Party conference last month urging her to help them, but say they have received no reply.

Mrs Pickles, an NHS midwife, said of Ms Hewitt: "If treatment simply improves a patient's quality of life, and extends that life by three or five years, she is not interested. But those years mean everything to cancer patients and their families."

The trio are launching a campaign to win access to the drug and have set up a website, www.velcadethree.co.uk, to raise funds. Velcade costs between £9,000 and £18,000 for a course of treatment.

This compares with more than £25,000 for a course of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, which in March Ms Hewitt instructed all primary care trusts - which fund local health services - not to refuse to fund on cost grounds.

NICE approved Herceptin for use on the NHS for those with early stage HER2-positive breast cancer - an aggressive form of the cancer - in June.

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