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Cancer drug refusal was “illegal”


18 July, 2007  

A health authority’s refusal to fund drugs for a bowel cancer victim was unlawful, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for Victoria Otley argued the drug Avastin had been effective when she spent £15,000 on private treatment. Barking and Dagenham Primary Care Trust failed in its legal duty when it refused to pay for the drug when Mrs Oatley’s money ran out, a judge heard.

The east London trust has argued the drug was not cost-effective and efficacy was poor. Mrs Otley, 56, a mother of two and grandmother of three, from Dagenham, east London, has been told without treatment her life expectancy is three to six months.

She was diagnosed with cancer in November 2005 – two and a half years after she first consulted doctors about her symptoms. Her father had died from the same disease.

Her counsel John Howell QC told the judge that under the European Convention on Human Rights, a state was under a positive obligation, when there was a “known and real and immediate risk to life”, to give life-sustaining treatment so long as it did not impose a disproportionate burden on the authorities. The judge said such decisions were necessarily medical and administrative matters, otherwise “you will have a judge-managed health service”. But Mr Howell replied that, if a decision was shown to be unfair and procedurally unlawful, patients such as Mrs Otley must be able to challenge it in the courts.