Human face of NHS budget constraints

Posted: 18th September 2013

NHSThe terminally ill mother of a disabled boy - who was plunged into debt when she had to pay privately for potentially life-extending cancer treatment in Germany - has had her plea for state funding rejected.

The woman had asked funding body NHS England to provide chemoembolisation therapy in order to block the blood supply to her tumour, boost her quality of life and potentially extend it. She argued that she could not face the much more debilitating side-effects of standard chemotherapy as they would prevent her from caring for her disabled son.

After her request was declined, she turned to her savings to pay for the treatment privately in Germany, spending £12,000 before she ran out of money and fell into debt. Challenging NHS England’s funding refusal at the High Court, her lawyers argued that the body had failed to take sufficient account of the severity of her pain and her distressing family situation.

Although NHS consultants treating her had not prescribed chemoembolisation, her GP had written a letter in support of her application for funding and it was submitted that the refusal violated her right to respect for her private and family life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lawyers representing NHS England argued that great thought had been given to the individual circumstances of the woman’s case. Although the therapy was sometimes funded by the NHS, it was not available to patients with cancer as advanced as that suffered by the woman. The often serious side-effects of standard chemotherapy were part of the ‘grim reality’ faced by many cancer patients. It was also submitted that funding of ‘very expensive’ chemoembolisation in the woman’s case could open the floodgates to a rush of other similar claims on limited NHS resources.

Dismissing the woman’s judicial review application, the Court found that all the circumstances of her request had been properly taken into account and that the decision contained no error of law or breach of human rights. The Court observed, "These are obviously acutely difficult cases. One's heart goes out to the claimant in this matter."