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Tipsheet

Shattered Life: National Health Service Denied Sight-Saving Medicine to Its Own Employee

...from the National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care

National Health Service Denied Sight-Saving Medicine to Its Own Employee

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An employee of Britain’s government-run National Health Service was denied medication that could save her from going blind in one eye.

Sylvie Webb, a widow from Salisbury, England, worked for 18 years as a secretary at Salisbury District Hospital. Yet, despite her situation, Webb discovered that medical treatment under the public health service is anything but universal.

In February 2007, doctors diagnosed Webb, then 58, with the “wet” type of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) in her left eye. If not treated in a timely manner, wet ARMD “can lead to blindness in as little as three months and people need prompt treatment if they are to minimize the risk of permanent sight loss,” according to a statement by the Royal National Institute of Blind People in London. [# More #]

As such, Webb’s medical consultant sought rapid treatment for Webb because her sight was “deteriorating ‘day by day,’” as Webb explained, and an infection in one eye can spread to the other good eye. 

But to Webb’s dismay, for nearly a year her local public health authority, Dorset Primary Care Trusts, refused to provide Webb with the expensive “anti-VEGF” drugs she desperately needed to save her sight.  Though two such effective drugs, Macugen and Lucentis, are licensed for general NHS use, the Dorset Trust, which controls funding prescriptions, dragged its feet.  Dorset Trust said it has yet to formulate a policy in a “fair and equitable way” to treat Webb’s condition and thus it could not provide her with the VEGF drugs.

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As Webb explained at the time, “At the time, the PCT [Dorset Primary Care Trusts] said it hadn’t got a policy and it would address the situation in April [2007] – but it has now postponed this until June.  I’m extremely worried that time is running out for me and other patients.”

The prospect of going blind terrified Webb:

I’m a young woman and want to carry on working, and then I’d like to do all the things I had planned for my retirement.  I’m also worried about the health of my other eye.  I know I’m at increased risk of getting wet AMD in that eye and this could mean I end up losing my sight.  The women in my family live into their 90s; I can’t accept the possibility of being blind unnecessarily for the next 35 years.

In May 2007, the Trust agreed to review Webb’s case on an urgent basis.  But for Tom Bremridge, CEO of the Macular Disease Society in Andover, UK, there is no excuse for Webb being without the available sight-saving drugs she needs. “It is outrageous that in this day and age Mrs. Webb faces losing her sight owing to bureaucratic idleness,” he said.

Steve Winyard of RNIB echoed Bremridge’s outrage:

This is disgraceful...  It’s little comfort for Mrs. Webb that she can’t get treatment simply because her PCT has yet to decide a policy.  The PCT needs to get its act together and ensure these drugs are available to patients now and without a struggle... There is a moral imperative to save the sight of people where we can.

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Finally, in 2008 new health guidelines permitted Dorset Trusts to prescribe Lucentis for Webb.  The guidelines published by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the government’s health advisory authority, allow for funding for the first 14 injections of Lucentis once wet ARMD is diagnosed in one eye.  If additional injections are necessary, the drug’s manufacturer, Novartis, will pay for additional treatment.

Webb was delighted that she would at last receive the sight-saving drug.  “I’m so relieved that Dorset PCT has finally realized the long-term benefit to me of this treatment and has agreed funding,” she said.  “I only hope that all patients are given treatment to help save their sight because while this is good news for me, there may be hundreds of others with wet AMD who cannot get the funding they desperately need.”

Purchase or download a free PDF of The National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care, for more on the way waiting lists affect the lives of people living in countries with government-run medicine.  You can download it today for free at http://www.nationalcenter.org/ShatteredLives.html

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