OVARIAN CANCER features on The One Show at 7 o'clock on Monday 6 October. It follows the story of cancer patient Annie Mulholland who discovers 2½ years into treatment that she had not been given the same information as other patients in Wales about the cancer drug Avastin and that information given to her about access to clinical trials had been misleading.
Wales has 5 year cancer survival rates equivalent to the poorest nations in Europe. There is no cancer drugs fund so oncologists have no idea whether a patient in Wales will be able to access a drug they have recommended. They are, however, aware of the poor chance of obtaining drugs from health boards such as Cardiff and the Vale. An oncologist from The Velindre Hospital told a meeting of Assembly Members it was notoriously the least likely health board to fund cancer drugs.
I live in Cardiff, Wales' Capital City, and I thought I was fortunate to be treated at The Velindre Hospital, Wales' major cancer centre. Not so fortunate when I discovered I could benefit from a cancer drug that is available from the NHS elsewhere in Wales, and in England, and that I could have had access to clinical trials 'outside the area' which seems to be the Health Boards' term for 'Outside Wales'.
Surely it's reasonable to expect fair treatment for all patients accessing the NHS across the UK. Wales needs to do something if it wants to improve its poor survival rates compared to other countries in the UK and Europe.
I agreed to appear on this show with great trepidation. It's an intrusion of ones privacy to let 2 million viewers into your home at 3 in the morning when you're getting up to catch a 4:10 bus to London. I campaigned for 16 months after I realised there's a postcode lottery for cancer drugs in Wales and in that time I've exhausted all democratic routes of representation at Westminster and in the Welsh Senydd. It's time to say a massive thank you to so many people who've encouraged, supported and provided helpful information, advice and contacts. These include the lovely Una Crudden in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the late Sharon Gould-Graham of Fife in Scotland. Both fantastic campaigners for equality of access to NHS treatments in the UK. There are also the clinicians and Expert Witnesses who told the Assembly in no uncertain terms that the current system of allocation of drugs is not fit for purpose, that it is harmful to patients, and that it threatens to damage the reputation of the Welsh Oncology Service. Another clinician submitted a written response worrying that the lack of system in Wales may compromise Wales' ability to engage in high-quality clinical research. Thanks also to friends and family, and several major charities in London who have made, to date, a number of unsuccessful representations in Wales for a fairer allocation of cancer drugs.
Most of all I'd like to thank friends here on the Ovacome site for your kindness and especially for tolerating my early posts when I was desperately struggling to deal with the barriers and smoke screens that are embedded in the NHS in Wales. Your feedback, positive and negative, messages, and guidance helped me through one of the bleakest periods of my life and transformed what seemed an irresolvable problem into a campaign that I have fought shoulder to shoulder with many others in the hope of improving the lot of cancer patients in Wales and the devolved nations.
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If you have been denied cancer drugs there is a charity which may be able to help: The Pamela Northcott Fund, pamelanorthcottfund.org.uk.