Patients with rare cancers 'need more consistent care'

In collaboration with the Press Association

Patients who are diagnosed with rare forms of cancer face a postcode lottery for treatment, a new report has revealed.

An audit of the policies and processes used by 62 primary care trusts (PCTs) to determine whether a patient is eligible for treatment shows that 5,000 patients have been forced to demonstrate that they are exceptional cases and should therefore receive funding for treatments not usually provided by the NHS over the past 20 months.

The audit, which was carried out by the Rarer Cancers Forum, also uncovered variations in PCTs' handling of exceptional funding requests.

Some areas had not approved a single request, while others had approved all such requests. In total, a quarter of exceptional requests for cancer treatment were turned down.

The Rarer Cancers Forum has called for new national guidance so that PCTs know how to process exceptional cases and are more consistent in their approach.

Chief executive Penny Wilson-Webb commented: "This audit shows that the exceptional cases process is in chaos and patients are suffering.

"There has to be a better way," she continued. "We urge the government to accept our ten-point plan to end this bizarre and demeaning lottery."

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said that the postcode prescribing lottery is a "major problem" and a concern for many patients and their doctors.

"Exceptional case committees are usually the last resort for patients who have already tried a number of ways to get a particular cancer treatment," he explained. "In situations when the doctor feels a patient will benefit, it is crucial that everyone is clear about how decisions about funding will be made.

"These committees vary hugely in how they make decisions, and how open they are in their discussion. This leads to distress and delay in many cases, taking precious time from patients, diverting doctors from clinical work, and consuming more NHS resources in administration.

"Cancer Research UK wants to see a transparent, streamlined and fair approach to allow each case to be judged on its merits."