A WOMAN’S cancer treatment has been reinstated after more than 11,500 people signed a petition against the NHS’s decision to withdraw funding for it
A WOMAN’S cancer treatment has been reinstated after more than 11,500 people signed a petition against the NHS’s decision to withdraw funding for it.
Harriet Scorer, who has a rare form of chronic blood cancer, was undergoing chemotherapy to prepare for a stem cell transplant when she was told that the operation had been postponed indefinitely due to a spending freeze.
The 56-year-old doctor, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, said she wouldn’t have agreed to the treatment if she’d known the transplant wouldn’t happen.
Doctors at University College Hospital in London, where she is being treated, said the drugs had taken such a heavy toll on her body that the procedure was needed within months or she might never be well enough for it.
Dr Scorer launched an online petition to Parliament, as the Henley Standard reported on last week, and on Tuesday the hospital agreed to carry out the transplant and to try to reclaim its costs from NHS England afterwards.
She will return to hospital for the operation later this month and will stay for several weeks afterwards while she recovers.
Dr Scorer, a pharmaceutical consultant and former gynaecologist, said: “It has been a long and exhausting couple of weeks but I’m relieved at the news.
“I understand there is still disagreement as to who should pay but the hospital can see I’m in the middle of something important and that it has a duty of care towards me.
“Now I just need to put this difficult period behind me and get my mind and body in the right place to go ahead with the transplant.”
Dr Scorer has Waldenström’s macroglobulinaemia, which causes the blood to thicken and can lead to weight loss, fatigue, anaemia and weakness of the immune system. It is rarely immediately life-threatening but can reduce life expectancy.
She was diagnosed in 1999 after a long period of poor health including multiple chest infections. Her symptoms went into remission after eight months of chemotherapy but returned in 2012 so she underwent another course. Last year she learned it was back for a third time after a lymph node on her neck swelled up.
She felt fine and didn’t want more chemotherapy because of the long-term health risks but doctors said a stem cell transplant might cure it.
This involves undergoing chemotherapy to kill as much of the cancer as possible before so-called “stem cells” are extracted from the patient’s bone marrow.
They undergo further chemotherapy to suppress their immune system before the stem cells are replaced, which hopefully “resets” the bloodstream to normal.
It is not a common treatment due to the increased risk of life-threatening infections or bleeding but Dr Scorer agreed and started chemotherapy in May, which caused all her hair to fall out.
In August she was told the funding was suspended due to financial uncertainty caused by a High Court ruling that NHS England may legally fund pre-exposure prophylaxis, a pill that prevents people from contracting HIV, following a challenge by the National Aids Trust.
NHS England, which plans to appeal, maintains that stem cell transplants are not a routine treatment for Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinaemia unless there are exceptional medical reasons.
Dr Scorer, who was campaigning alongside several other patients in a similar situation, said: “It reached the point where my consultant insisted that I needed the transplant within a month.
“The hospital and NHS England couldn’t agree on funding so I said ‘look, just give me a date and sort it out later’. We had to put enormous pressure on them to do the right thing.
“Our petition was very well-supported and I think that’s down to a combination of word-of-mouth, social media and growing coverage in the local media.
“It’s really touching how many people got behind it — one person recognised me in the street from the Henley Standard article and said he was going home to sign it.
“There was also a market trader in Henley who put up a clipping of the article at their stall along with a link to my petition. I’ve even been hearing from friends who I haven’t been in touch with for many years. It’s amazing how many people have got behind it and I’m very grateful.”