Filling the widening gaps in the NHS

People living in England suffering from the blood cancer multiple myeloma will no doubt feel rather hard done by, given the guidance the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issued recently.

Despite the drug Velcade being prescribed by doctors and despite it having proven benefits in prolonging and improving the lives of sufferers, NICE has determined the drug should not be made available on the NHS in England other than to those who are already being treated.

If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, it’s a different matter – the 18,000 per year drug is being prescribed by the NHS. Inevitably, many doctors feel that the decision in England is based on cost alone and some feel that the recent ruling on Herceptin, whereby breast cancer sufferers in the early stages of the disease will be given the drug on the NHS, may have taken most of the money available to some health care trusts.

As medical science continues to advance it is likely we will see more cases such as this whereby the NHS can’t cope with the cost of new treatments. But it is not only treatments that may cause problems. In the same week, Prime Minister Tony Blair made a speech on healthy living, asking that individuals take responsibility for their own health to relieve some of the pressure on the NHS.

According to Blair, the state’s role should be to provide information to help individuals make the correct choices but the public needs to make the final decisions on their general health and then im-plement them.

With the cost of ill health mounting the NHS is straining to cope with health issues that result from overeating, underexercising, smoking and stress. It is estimated that obesity alone costs the NHS 2.6bn a year – think what a difference a small proportion of this money could mean in making drugs such as Velcade available.

But these recommendations take years to be taken on board. And even then, how closely will they be heeded? Until all drugs prescribed and recommended by doctors are available unreservedly there will still be thousands of lives hanging in the balance of NICE decisions.

Blair’s call to take responsibility for our health can be extended to our finances as the two are linked. Although not ideal, it’s a fact that the NHS cannot afford the most appropriate treatment in all cases. Whether it’s to pay for rehabilitation not provided by the NHS or to pay for treatment or drugs, it’s crucial that your clients understand they have to take responsibility not only for their health but also for their finances in the event their health fails them.

Your recommendation of a protection policy that pays a lump sum on diagnosis of a disease could mean the difference between life and death.