Sang Tan-WPA Pool/AP
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, right, with Health Secretary Alan Johnson

British Doctors, Patients Fight for Right to Buy Costly Medicines

June 23, 2008 09:01 AM
by Denis Cummings
Faced with legal action, Britain’s National Health Service considers allowing NHS patients who pay privately for costly, non-approved drugs to continue receiving public health care services.

30-Second Summary

Six cancer patients have taken legal action against the NHS, Britain’s public health care system, for the right to take medication not covered by the NHS that may drastically increase their chances of survival.
The contested NHS ‘top-up’ policy stipulates that if a patient buys medication privately, the National Health Service will not cover any other medical expenses.
Patients say they’re forced to either pay thousands of pounds to cover all of their health care, or to remain on less-effective, NHS-approved drugs.
The recent death of cancer patient Lisa O’Boyle made national news in England. Doctors told her that the drug Cetuximab, which is not covered by the NHS, would help her chances of survival. When she bought the drug on her own, the NHS said they would stop funding her free treatment.
The patients in the lawsuit want access to drugs which have generally been proven safe and effective, but have not been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) because they are not considered cost-effective for the health care system.
The NHS argues that adding such privately-funded drugs to public care creates an unequal, two-tiered system. However, following the legal action, negative publicity and pressure from Parliament, it has agreed to review the policy.

Headline Link: NHS to review policy

Background: NHS’ ‘top-up’ policy enacted to prevent two-tier system

Opinion & Analysis: The ‘top-up’ ban: egalitarian or unfair?

Related Topics: NICE and the ‘Postcode lottery’

Reference: NHS, NICE and Doctors for Reform


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