High Court judges can no longer sentence people to death in this country – but some would argue that PCTs can.
Surely NHS patients should no longer be penalised if they pay privately for drugs that the health service will not fund?
Currently patients with cancer who pay for a treatment that has not been approved by the drug-rationing body NICE, become ineligible for NHS treatment. The issue of top-up payments deeply divides patients and both the nursing and medical professions.
The government’s review of the rules is long overdue.
To be fair, NICE has very difficult decisions to make. If it sanctioned all new treatments that potentially offered higher survival rates, other patients could suffer as the drugs bill would swallow up a far greater proportion of the overall budget.
Relaxing the rules is also seen as morally wrong – it’s against the founding principles of the NHS for the wealthy to receive better care than the less well off.
The NHS must be seen to treat all equally – but it should also be able to respond to individual needs and offer choices.
Perhaps, if top-ups are introduced, they should be limited to a narrow range of treatments or circumstances.
If all other therapies have failed, a patient who is terminally ill should be allowed to buy specific drugs while they remain within the NHS.
At the Labour party conference, the government announced that prescription charges would be waived for patients with cancer.
Over time this will be extended to all those with long-term illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease.
This is a step in the right direction. Fairness has always been at the heart of the NHS – which is why the top-up controversy is damaging.
Steven Pack, community psychiatric nurse, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
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