Private Business Intermediaries

Post code lottery for cancer treatment

14/11/2012 | By Sharmila Chauhan
The BBC’s Inside Out documentary highlighted the effect of the ‘post-code’ lottery on a particularly poignant case around a six-year-old boy called Aarin Bhatt, who lives in Hounslow, west London. Aarin suffered from neuroblastoma – a type of cancer that is notoriously difficult to cure.

Recently it has been found that an antibody treatment can help to improve chances of survival in people with neuroblastoma by 20%. That’s a one in five chance. This treatment helps the body to produce its own antibodies against the tumours so they will shrink and easier to remove by surgery. This revolutionary treatment has already saved the lives of children who had no other options. Currently doctors in Germany and the US are pioneering this new technology, but currently it costs about £65,000.

Unfortunately, in the UK, although some NHS primary care trusts are willing to fund this treatment, others are not. Aarin’s tumour had entwined all his vital organs in such as way as to make an operation impossible and he had already endured 15 rounds of chemotherapy which has failed to make a difference. Despite this, the local PCT was unwilling to fund his treatment. However, less than 20 miles away, little Adam Bird, had his treatment funded by NHS Surrey.

Fortunately, the charity, Neuroblastoma Alliance, in Brent, fundraised and managed to get the £65,000 so that Aarin could have his treatment in Germany. The treatment reduced the size of his tumour making a chance of surgery much better. Inside Out followed Aarin’s family when, after 10 hours of surgery, the surgeon was able to confirm that he was able to remove the tumour. Aarin is now in remission.

Aarin in just one of a number of children suffering from this deadly disease and many other parents in similar circumstances are worried about what may happen to their children if they were similarly affected by the 'post code' lottery.

Although the PCTs have said they look at each situation on a ‘case by case’ basis this is a very poor consolation to parents who live in the ‘wrong postcode.’ There appears to be very little rhyme or reason as to why certain decisions are made.

With such a decline in NHS resources, parents may be wondering what they can do to prepare, should the worst happen. One option many might consider is taking out health insurance for the family. Although not all policies cover treatment abroad, some do. Cash plans such as Freedom’s Your Choice policy, and others like it, can provide cover for treatment abroad and by offering a cash sum may also be able to help with travel expenses should they be needed.

Unfortunately whilst treatments for cancer are improving dramatically, they are becoming more expensive. How long the NHS will be able to support such advances remains to be seen.

BBC Inside Out was aired on Monday, 12 November at 19:30 GMT. It is available on iPlayer until the 19th November 2012.