Tragic husband's hopes over cancer drugs

The husband of a woman who died of kidney cancer has backed a government move to lift a ban on drugs which can prolong lives.

Sarah Hall

The husband of a woman who died of kidney cancer has backed a government move to lift a ban on kidney cancer drugs which can prolong lives.

Grandmother-of-two Gail Balding died two weeks ago after a long battle with the disease and she faced a constant fight with the health authorities to get funding for the drug Sutent.

Despite three appeals it was refused because it was not deemed “cost-effective” and her and husband Tony paid £30,000 over two years for the drug.

Mrs Balding's death came just a fortnight before it was revealed the government watchdog Nice (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) could be forced into a u-turn over its ban on Sutent and other life-extending cancer drugs.

The climbdown is seen as a major victory for patients and cancer doctors and could extend the lives of up to 3,600 people with advanced kidney cancer.

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Today Mr Balding, 60, from the Golden Triangle area of Norwich, said although his wife was not given the drug on the NHS, he was pleased other patients would get that chance.

He said: “If there is a chance for other patients then I am behind it. There is no way someone who has paid taxes all their lives should not be given the drugs they need to extend their lives.

“We had more than two years longer with Gail because we paid for the drug and that means everything.

“For any family a few more months or years of someone's life is crucial. It is invaluable time and critical that anyone with cancer has this opportunity.

“We were fortunate we had savings to pay for the drug and in the extra time Gail had we packed a lot in before she got very sick but some people do not have the funds.

“Gail was 60 but kidney cancer could affect some one at the age of 24, it could happen to anyone.”

This weekend Nice confirmed it was looking again at four drugs, including Sutent which it deemed not cost-effective on the NHS, in the light of new evidence about their effectiveness. A meeting in January will draw up new guidance on all four treatments.

Mr and Mrs Balding appealed against a decision by NHS Norfolk to not provide the drug three times but health bosses would not overturn it.

Dr Bryan Heap, medical director for NHS Norfolk, said: “NHS Norfolk would like to express their sadness at the news of the death of Gail Balding.

“In the case of Gail Balding, NHS Norfolk received the request and reviewed it via the exceptional cases panel.

“Following consideration, it was determined by the panel that the clinical aspects of this case did not show exceptionality and funding was declined.

“Sutent (or Sunitinib) is not approved by NICE and is not routinely funded by NHS Norfolk.

“Nice is currently in negotiations re-evaluating how much drugs cost, to try and find ways to make drugs more available for patients.

“A judgement by Nice is not expected until the early part of 2009.”

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