North Wales Assembly Member Mark Isherwood has called for the Health Secretary to address the ‘postcode lottery’ which is denying men in North Wales access to a new scanner for Prostate cancer that is available free in South Wales and England.
Raising the issue in this week’s Business Statement, Mr Isherwood said he has been contacted by men who are having to fund the scans themselves because they are not available on the NHS in North Wales.
He said: “I call for a single Welsh Government statement, hopefully from the Health Secretary, on multiparametric – or mp – MRI scans for suspected prostate cancer patients from NHS Wales. When I wrote to the Health Secretary regarding this, he wrote back to me last week saying that the current guideline from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—or NICE—doesn’t recommend pre-biopsy mpMRI, and there’s no clinical consensus on the optimum design of a prostate cancer pathway including this.
“When the Community Health Council for North Wales wrote to him, welcoming his commitment to expect Health Boards to revise their diagnostic pathways to incorporate these scans, if recommended by NICE in revised guidelines after April 2019, they also expressed concern that this would be too late, that patients in North Wales will continue to be left behind, and that their discussions with Urologists in North Wales suggest that we need to be developing the service now, in preparation for NICE accreditation.
“The reply on this occasion was, ‘Once the clinical benefits have been assessed, and if the guidance is updated, I would expect health boards to revise their diagnostic pathways.’ However, the key priorities for implementation in the current Clinical guideline on ‘Prostate cancer diagnosis and management’, from NICE, include: ‘Consider multiparametric MRI…for men with a negative transrectal ultrasound 10–12 core biopsy to determine whether another biopsy is needed’.
“Well, last Friday, I met patients who have had to spend large sums of money after that guidance was followed by a consultant in Wrexham, but the NHS in North Wales would not fund the essential scans that they ultimately received across the border in England.
“One told me he’d spent £1,020. He also told me that these scans were more than twice as accurate as those currently available. That gentleman was from Flintshire. Another gentleman from Llangollen said that the buck stops with the Welsh Government because they put the Health Board into Special Measures, and that he is amongst nine men from North Wales who have now had to pay for this despite it being available in England and south Wales. They want to meet the Minister. They say that they want him to accept that the same should be happening in North Wales, and they ask why people like him aren’t being refunded when they’ve had to pay for this potentially life-saving procedure themselves.
“Waiting for 2019 is not good enough, Cabinet Secretary. These men’s lives are at risk. It’s available in parts of Wales. You say you believe in a single NHS Wales. Well, please deliver on that now”.
Mr Isherwood added: “It is not acceptable that men from North Wales who do not have the ability to pay are left wondering whether they have cancer. As one North Wales patient told me, last Friday’s announcement by NHS England that it was launching a one-stop service using MRI techniques to revolutionise prostate cancer treatment and slash the time taken for a diagnosis there was a “game changer”, and patients across Wales should not be left behind.”