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NICE deems life-extending drugs ‘too expensive’, GP would ‘rather die’ than endure cancer treatment, Lib Dem peer attacks the bill

A round-up of the health news in the papers on Tuesday 14 February

Thousands of women with aggressive breast cancer will be denied two life-extending drugs as they have not been deemed ‘value for money' under new NHS draft guidance, the Telegraph reports.

NICE has said that the drugs, Tyverb (also known as lapatinib) and Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab), used to treat a specific form of breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, are ‘too expensive'. Both drugs have been shown to reduce the growth of tumours but NICE experts ruled the benefit was too small to justify the additional £50,000 per year per patient.

Sir David Dillon, chief executive of NICE, said that while the drugs 'can reduce the growth and further spread of metastatic breast cancer tumours', the extent to which they can improve overall survival 'appears to be small or undefined'.

Dr Martin Scurr, a GP in London and also ‘the Mail's GP', says in the paper today that he would rather die than endure the pain of treatment for advanced cancer.

He writes: ‘Should I discover tomorrow that I have advanced, life-threatening cancer, I won't go rushing to the doctors for a heavily invasive course of medical treatment. No, I will shut up my London surgery, head to my home in Norfolk, stock up on gin and tonic and have a jolly good time until I meet my end'.

Dr Scurr says that most doctors know that treatment for serious life-threatening illnesses is ‘ultimately futile' and may extend a patient's life but does nothing for its quality. He says that having spent years in the medical profession, doctors are realistic about their own chances and would not usually undergo the treatment which they recommend to their patients.

He goes on to urge GPs to communicate honestly with their patients to address their ‘unrealistic expectations' but fears the NHS reforms could drive a wedge between GPs and their patients: ‘It is hard enough to tell someone that there is nothing more you can realistically do to save them. If the proposed changes make patients suspect that you have financial motives, it can only make this most difficult of tasks even more fraught'.

It's not just patients who are distrustful of the NHS reforms; Nick Clegg just can't seem to get his party to fall in line and back Andrew Lansley and his beleaguered bill. As reported in the Guardian this morning, Lib Dem peer, Shirley Williams, has called for the Department of Health to drop the competition clause from the health bill, just hours after the deputy prime minister leant his support to the health secretary.

Lady Williams has raised concerns that the public has a fear of privatisation founded on the idea that GPs ‘might become dependent on advice from powerful private health companies, and that the imposition of UK and European competition laws, addressed to markets and to social goals, might destroy the public service principles of the NHS'.