A man diagnosed with cancer is being denied medication that could prolong his life because the drugs cost more than the Department of Health in Northern Ireland is willing to pay, his family has said.
Adrian Allen (56) was sent home with painkillers after being told by doctors in December that he had pancreatic cancer and would need specialist treatment.
Mr Allen, who lives in Claudy with his wife Linda and daughter Emma, was dealt the devastating blow by his specialist at his last appointment at the Belfast Trust hospital he was referred to from Altnagelvin.
Mr Allen was too ill to be interviewed but his wife said they feel “totally abandoned” by a health service they have contributed to all their lives.
She said: “Adrian was diagnosed in December but in January we were told he would be referred on to Belfast because that is where the experts in this field were.
“After a series of tests he eventually began a course of chemotherapy which he took at home in tablet form.
“We felt this was doing some good because Adrian started to feel a bit more energetic, but after the third course he had to have a scan to measure how the treatment was affecting the cancer.
“When the specialist told us that the scan showed it had made no difference we were shocked but took heart when he said there was another drug .”
The specialist explained to the family that the drug — Sunitinib — was his only hope but that he would have to get approval because it was a lot more expensive than the drug Adrian was currently using.
“We never contemplated that they would refuse to fund this drug when it was all that was left for us but incredibly this is what they did,” said Mrs Allen.
“This drug is available in England, Scotland and Wales — but not here.
“I thought this was part of the UK but it seems when it comes to the health service people here are being denied drugs they need.
“Adrian's doctor said he was angry that he couldn't give him the drugs. He told us he has used it successfully on other patients and the Belfast Trust had given approval but that it was the Department of Health that said no.”
Mrs Allen said her husband’s doctor has applied for funding again.
“The way things stand, they have sent Adrian home with painkillers saying there is nothing else they can offer him,” she said.
“I cannot believe this is happening to us.
“We went into that consultation with the specialist full of hope and expectation but left feeling totally abandoned.”
Mrs Allen and her daughter Emma said that they are determined to fight so that the department agrees to fund the critical treatment and will lobby MPs and MLAs. Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, who sits on the Assembly’s Health Committee said accessing life-preserving and life-saving drugs is becoming a major issue here.
He said: “It is ironic that the DUP in particular want to preserve and maintain parity with the UK when it comes to legislation, yet in the health department, headed by a DUP minister, there is a major issue accessing drugs.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the minister, Edwin Poots, was not available for interview.
But in a statement, it added: “The HSC Board has a process for considering the funding of individual cases based on the application from the relevant clinician.”
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust said: “We acknowledge the personal stress this patient is going through but we cannot discuss an individual's care.”
Sunitinib is a type of biological therapy called a protein kinase inhibitor. Protein kinase is a type of chemical messenger (an enzyme) that plays a part in the growth of cancer cells.
Sunitinib tablets block the protein kinase to stop the cancer growing. It is also known by its brand name Sutent.