Chemo drug funding question reaches Jeremy Hunt after more Leeds prostate cancer patients lose out

Michael Thornton, 65, from Bramley. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Michael Thornton, 65, from Bramley. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
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The battle for Leeds prostate cancer patients to have access to life-extending chemotherapy has reached the Health Secretary after it emerged more people have been denied free treatment.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has written to Jeremy Hunt after Michael Thornton, 65, from Bramley, was invited for Docetaxel chemo at Leeds St James’s Hospital on August 24 to be told the day before that funding was not available.

He claims other patients have been affected by the lack of NHS backing, which came to light after we revealed a 41-year-old Leeds man had been given the same news last week but asked to pay £1,400 for the drug or go elsewhere.

Mr Thornton, whose advanced prostate cancer has spread to his bones, has since been offered the Docetaxel chemo for free 120 miles away in Birmingham or quoted £14,000 to have it done privately.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) has said that the treatment is not “routinely funded” by NHS England despite the fact a clinical trial earlier this year found it could extend patients’ lives by nearly two years.

“The annoying thing is to be led into something and have it rescinded the day before,” he said. “They keep telling me St James’s has the gold standard and there’s no better in the world – it doesn’t seem that way to me.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been asked to look into the matter.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been asked to look into the matter.

Following a further appointment on September 15, Mr Thornton was issued hormone therapy and discharged. He added: “I got told I was discharged from their care and it was up to my GP to re-refer me.

“I just felt like I was being told to go away and die. They were only interested because it was part of a trial.”

Mr Thornton, who retired from work in social services three years ago, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in May before doctors asked whether he would like to be involved in the Stampede trial of Docetaxel.

Leeds MP Rachel Reeves has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to raise Mr Thornton’s case and plans to comment on NHS England’s consultation over the future of the Cancer Drugs Fund.

“What is most appalling is that Michael is not alone in his experience of being denied or withdrawn treatment for life saving cancer drugs,” she said. “It is simply not acceptable for patients to pay or travel long distances in order to secure their treatment. This goes against the very values of health care, free at the point of use, the NHS was founded on.”

A spokesman for LTH has said that the trust has apologised to Mr Thornton for offering the treatment and then not delivering it, adding that it would be happy to speak to him about treatment options going forward.

An NHS England spokeswoman said it is developing a policy on Docetaxel, which will be based on the results of two studies, the second of which is yet to be published.

She said: “We’re taking a careful look at the clinical evidence – including new research to be published shortly – which will guide the decision about the circumstances in which this drug should best be used.”

The spokeswoman also explained that in such cases where a policy is being developed “routes remain open” for doctors with patients who have “exceptional” or “urgent need”.

Drug proven to boost prostate cancer patients

A clinical trial has found that early treatment with a chemotherapy drug extends the lives of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

The drug, Docetaxel, is normally given after hormone treatment has failed but results released in May from a trial run across Britain and Switzerland found earlier treatment can extend life expectancy from 43 to 65 months.

The study, part of the Stampede trial, involved 2,962 men who were given six doses of the drug at the start of their treatment. On average patients lived 10 months longer than expected.