Another UK cancer patient has resorted to legal action in a bid to force her Primary Care Trust to allow her to receive treatment with Roche’s breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab).

Last month, former nurse Barbara Clark won a legal battle to be given Herceptin after she threatened to use the Human Rights Act to force her PCT to prescribe the drug [[04/10/05c]].

North Stoke PCT said the patient, Elaine Barber, could not be prescribed Herceptin because it was not cost-effective, despite a doctor’s recommendation that she receive the drug and just weeks after Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt insisted the cost of the drug should be no bar to receiving treatment [[06/10/05a]]. Hewitt said she was very concerned by the case as it conflicts with verdicts by other PCTs around the country, and has arranged a meeting with the PCT later this week, according to a BBC News Online report.

The PCT’s position is that as Barber has early-stage breast cancer – an indication for which Herceptin has not yet been approved in Europe, despite clinical data suggesting that it showed that adding the agent to standard chemotherapy in early-stage disease cuts the risk of cancer recurrence versus chemotherapy alone by as much as 51% [[14/09/05d]].

“Evidence of this as a cost-effective use of the finite health resources available for North Stoke patients is not confirmed,” said North Stoke PCT in a statement.

But last month, the Department of Health said it intended to fast-track the review of Herceptin in early-stage breast cancer by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), and would offer testing to women with early disease so that once the drug is licensed it will be made immediately available to eligible patients [[06/10/05c]]. In the meantime, PCTs may fund Herceptin to early-stage patients on a discretionary basis.

The case, thought to be the first of its kind to be brought to the High Court, is scheduled to be heard next week. If Barber is successful it could encourage other patients to use the courts to gain access to new medications, according to representatives of her legal team.