Sunday 24 February 2019

All suitable cervical cancer patients to be offered Pembro drug

Labour TD Alan Kelly. Photo: Collins
Labour TD Alan Kelly. Photo: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

WOMEN with cervical cancer who are outside the CervicalCheck scandal group are to be finally offered the drug Pembro, it emerged today.

The drug, which campaigner Vicky Phelan has credited with reducing her tumours has up to now only available free to members of the 221 group who were caught up in the debacle.

However, Health Minister Simon Harris will now extend it to all suitable women suffering from the cancer who could benefit.

Labour Party Health spokesperson Alan Kelly , who campaigned for its wider availability said he welcomed news that costs associated with the drug Pembro for cervical cancer patients will now be funded by the State.

Deputy Kelly said:“I am delighted that Minister Harris has finally sanctioned that the State will foot the bill for cervical cancer patients who are able to take the drug Pembro.

“This announcement today has been a long time coming for women with cervical cancer. We had a situation where women who were at the centre of the Cervical Check Scandal forgetting the Pembro treatment for free but other women with cervical cancer were paying on affordable amounts for this treatment.

“Working with women like Vicky Phelan, Áine Morgan and Tracey Brennan I brought the inequity of the provision of Pembro to the Minister for Health’s attention. I’m glad the minister has now ended the uncertainty around making the job available.

“It is timely that this announcement has been made during cervical cancer awareness week. While there are many steps to be taken when it comes to cervical cancer prevention and dealing with the continued fall out from the CervicalCheck scandal making Pembro available will mean so much to many women and their families.”

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health said :”Following discussions between the Department of Health and the HSE, the HSE is now putting in place necessary arrangements which, on an exceptional basis, will facilitate access to Pembro for cervical cancer patients on a case-by-case basis in public hospitals when a treating clinician determines that this is in the patient’s best interests.”

She said :”All prescribing decisions will be entirely a matter for the treating clinician, in line with patient safety protocols and the Medical Council Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics.”

The HSE is communicating this approach to hospitals and medical oncologists. This arrangement will apply to cervical cancer patients only.

The statutory responsibility of the HSE for medicine pricing and reimbursement decisions, in accordance with the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013, remains unchanged.

A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said today : “The Minister has acknowledged the difficulty of the backlog and the priority with which this is being treated by his Department and the HSE, not least during oral questions on December 5h in response to a question from Fianna Fail's Spokesperson on Health taken by Deputy Lisa Chambers.

“The Minister, the Department and the HSE have responded transparently to queries on this. In regard to the transfer of smear test samples within the six week deadline, the Minister is advised by the HSE that, from April to October 2018, there was only a 0.29pc rate of expired samples and vials. This is very similar to the same period in 2017 when it was 0.25pc.

“There may be a number of cases where the vial used to contain the sample expires, or where a sample may be insufficient. In such cases, a woman and her GP are advised by letter of the need for a repeat smear test after three months.

"The HSE has been carefully monitoring issues with regard to the expiry of tests and are ensuring that where tests need to be retaken that an appropriate plan is in place.  In all circumstances, the HSE will prioritise contacting women affected in the first instance.

"The HSE has recognised that the delays are difficult for women and every effort is being made to improve the situation but it is the case, as the Minister has said previously, that this will take some time to resolve."

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