Sarah Kate-Templeton reports in The Sunday Times, 28th September 2014: Wait for NHS will cost my life, says ex-GP -No mention of rationing overtly – yet
PATIENTS with eye cancer have revealed how they are being forced to seek private treatment or risk dying while waiting for treatment on the NHS.
People with ocular melanoma, the most common form of eye cancer, with some 400 cases a year, have written to The Sunday Times Beat Cancer Campaign to highlight their struggle for NHS treatment.
They include an accountant who claims he was told by NHS doctors to “go away and die”, and a former NHS GP who says she was forced to go private to save her life.
Iain Galloway, 46, who has already lost his left eye and most of his liver to cancer , says that when he asked doctors what he could do to prolong his life, the reply was: “How much do you earn?”
Galloway was diagnosed with ocular melanoma in June 2010 but heard through OcuMel UK, a charity that represents sufferers, that consultants at Southampton General Hospital took a special interest in the disease.
Galloway, who wants to live to see his 17-month-old son start school, claims that during an appointment there last December a doctor suggested he create a “war chest” to fund his treatment.
“I knew the severity of the cancer and I said, ‘How can I genuinely look at this long-term?’He replied, ‘Well, OK, how much do you earn?’ He wasn’t being flippant: we were having a candid conversation. He said it might be worth having a pot of money.”
Dr Lesley Kirkpatrick, a retired NHS GP who has survived longer with ocular melanoma than any other patient in Britain, attributes her survival to her medical contacts and having savings of £50,000 to pay for treatment. The melanoma has spread to her liver.
Kirkpatrick, 55, from Hampshire, who is married to a retired consultant anaesthetist, said: “The reason that I have survived so long is that I have a medical background. I am — or rather was — relatively wealthy and able to purchase scans and treatments.”
Kirkpatrick has paid privately for advanced MRI scans and for special radiation therapy and immunotherapy drugs. But she believes that delays while she unsuccessfully argued with the NHS over treatment may end her life prematurely.
“I think that delay just let my cancer get out of control,” she said. “There would have to be a miracle for me to be alive in three to six months’ time.”
Brian Carney, 58, a retired accountant from Yorkshire, claims that when his eye cancer was diagnosed in 2005 he was told there was little point conducting regular MRI scans because, if the cancer spread, he would die anyway.
He chose to fund private MRI scans and was treated privately when the spread of the cancer to his liver was detected.
“My own regional specialist hospital, one of three national eye cancer centres, only offered periodic ultrasound scans,” he said. They argued that early diagnosis of metastasis (spread) was irrelevant because ‘there is no meaningful treatment available; if you get metastasis, you die’.”
Sean Duffy, NHS England’s clinical director for cancer, said: “Doctors make treatment decisions, including diagnostic testing, on a case-by-case basis. Since April 2013, NHS England has funded the use of [the drug] Ipilimumab for the treatment of advanced melanoma where it is clinically effective to do so.”
In Manchester for the Labour party conference last week, I chaired a fringe session in which one doctor likened the NHS to a patient in A&E. “It’s rushed into emergency every few years, patched up, then discharged,” he said. “Then the whole thing starts again under another administration.”
It is almost obligatory for political parties to say they want to “save” the NHS. Ed Miliband said it on Wednesday when he made it clear that Labour will make the NHS the centrepiece of its general-election pitch, and Nigel Farage joined in with his own version on Friday. But save it from what?
The health service faces a host of challenges — an ageing population, increases in dementia and diabetes cases, PFI debt, rising public expectations and low staff morale. When politicians say the greatest threat to the NHS is “the other lot”,you wonder if what the NHS most needs saving from is politicians…..
…What patients want is what both Burnham and Hunt talk about: a compassionate service centred around them rather than NHS bureaucrats. This is the stated goal of all three main parties, but when any one party implies that money alone can fix all problems, the others are hamstrung.
No other European country has a healthcare system politicised in this way — the French and German governments set the budgets but do not meddle in the detail. In Britain I meet pioneering community nurses, doctors and local councillors who are quietly improving care. They are fed up with having to worry, every time there is an election, that there will be yet another five-year plan.
Some of these people are wondering where the substance in Labour’s proposals lies. What they would really like, I suspect, is for the politicians to lose the microphone.
Camilla Cavendish discusses the prognosis for the NHS at The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 11 at 1.30pm. cheltenhamfestivals.com