Imagine being told you have incurable breast cancer.
To add to this shock, you’re then told there’s a drug available that can give you 16 more months of precious life with your loved ones … but you can’t get it on the NHS in Scotland.
It’s free through the health service in England and Wales but because you live north of the Border, you will have to find tens of thousands of pounds to get it.
This emotional nightmare is the reality facing women living with secondary breast cancer in Scotland who are missing out on a drug called Perjeta. It’s a nightmare that has to be stopped.
Last week, this newspaper wrote about Jen Hardy from Edinburgh, who has faced this exact situation. Jen had the courage to speak out about the heartache of missing out on precious time with her family but there are many other women and families in Scotland who are also suffering in silence.
At one of the most frightening times of their lives, women are being forced to think about moving to England, taking out massive loans, or selling their homes to get a drug that could keep them alive.
We must address this injustice now. I support Breast Cancer Now’s call for the drug manufacturer Roche, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Medicines Consortium – who decide which drugs are available on the NHS – to put patients’ lives first and agree a deal to make Perjeta available at a price the health service can afford.
The fact that a deal has been reached in England and Wales proves it is possible for Perjeta to be made available on the NHS.
It has been the standard of care in England for more than four years, originally thanks to a Cancer Drugs Fund that the Tory/LibDem coalition deserve recognition for, and now as a main part of the NHS in both England and Labour-run Wales.
In Scotland, it’s around 17 months since the SNP Government promised to reform the way negotiations take place with drug companies on cost.
In 2016, Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar wrote to Health Secretary Shona Robison about the issue of new medicines in Scotland.
He called for a number of changes including much greater transparency and an open decision-making process to help gain public trust, the ability to negotiate on price, and closer working with English medicines body NICE to allow the sharing of clinical evidence and collective bargaining on price.
Providing access to new medicines costs money. That’s why, in an era of significant pressure on the public finances, reform of the process is essential.
Perjeta has been back and forth to the Scottish Medicines Consortium three times since 2013. With a proper system of negotiation on cost, led by the Scottish Government, we would have the best chance of getting this right first time.
But right now, in the here and present, women need this drug. Let’s make it happen.
This article was first published in the Daily Record newspaper on the 15th of May 2018.