DON'T CONDEMN ME TO DEATH; Breast Cancer Victim's Haunting Plea for Rationed Lifesaving Drug

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK CRAVEN

A BREAST cancer victim whose hospital wants to deny her the wonder drug Herceptin compared the decision to a 'death sentence' yesterday.

Ann Marie Rogers, 54, made an impassioned plea to a High Court judge to let her continue taking the drug.

'I believe that Herceptin gives me the best chance of survival,' she said.

'Everyone must be able to understand that all I want is the best chance of recovery.

'The refusal of Herceptin is as though I have been given a punishment, like a death sentence. With the prognosis, waiting for the cancer to return is like waiting on Death Row.' Mrs Rogers, from Swindon, is seeking a landmark ruling on the use of the drug which doctors believe could save 1,000 lives a year.

The decision would affect more than 5,000 other women who also suffer from the early stage of an aggressive form of the cancer.

Campaigners believe that hospital chiefs are dragging their feet over allowing the drug's use because of the potential [pounds sterling]100million-a-year bill for cash-strapped trusts.

A one-year course of Herceptin, which is all the vast majority of patients would require, costs around [pounds sterling]21,000.

The hopes of sufferers were raised by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt in October when she pledged that 'from this week onwards' women diagnosed with early-stage cancer would have

the chance to be treated with the drug and that the cost alone should not be a bar on treatment.

In reality, cash-strapped NHS trusts prefer to wait until Herceptin is approved by the Government's drugs watchdog the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Mrs Rogers, a former restaurant manager, was told last year by her consultant that she should have the treatment but health chiefs at the Swindon NHS Primary Care Trust refused. She borrowed [pounds sterling]5,000 to pay for the first few treatments, but then ran out of cash.

At a hearing in December, the trust was ordered to pay for her continuing treatment until a final decision is reached.

Mrs Rogers claims that to deny her the treatment breaches her 'right to life' under the European Convention on Human Rights.

She said: 'With Herceptin I now have a better-than-evens chance of living as opposed to a better-than-evens chance of dying.

'One of the most difficult things to deal with when you are diagnosed with cancer is having to live with the constant fear of a time when the cancer will come back. This is particularly difficult as I know that if it comes back it will be terminal.

'I am pretty confident that without this treatment the cancer will return. …