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Asbestos victims appeal NHS drug fund decision

National Institute of Clinical Excellence rules mesothelioma treatment is too expensive

CAMPAIGNERS took their funding fight for a drug that eases the effects of deadly asbestos disease mesothelioma to the House of Commons this week.

The protesters, from the Forum of Asbestos Victims Support Groups, want to overturn a National Institute of Clinical Excellence judgement earlier this year that said the Alimta drug was too expensive for widespread use on the NHS.

Some primary care trusts currently supply Alimta, while others refuse on cost grounds. Alimta is the only licensed drug for the treatment of the disease.

Asbestos groups and drug manufacturer Eli Lilly are due to appeal against the NICE decision on October 27.

The campaigners - including mesothelioma sufferers and their families - lobbied MPs on the issue at Westminster on Tuesday. They are hoping to secure a meeting with Tony Blair to reverse the decision.

Forum chairman Tony Wh itston said: 'If this appeal is upheld the trusts that currently provide Alimta are highly unlikely to go on funding it. The drug does not save lives but it does ease suffering.'

Alimta costs £6,800 per person if taken over an 18-week course by sufferers.

Mr Whitston said: 'The truth is that this is not a sexy drug - many of these sufferers are 70 to 80-year-old working class men from the construction industry who have ended up giving their lives for the economy of the country.'

According to Government figures, nearly 5,000 people have been diagnosed with mesothelioma since 2002.

Half of these come from the construction, metal and electrical trades.

Almost 2,000 sufferers died in 2004, and this rate is expected to climb above 3,000 by 2010.

The disease attacks the lining of the lungs and nine in 10 cases are linked to asbestos exposu re.

Alan Ritchie, general secretary of construction union Ucatt, said:

'To deny these people a little extra time with their family and friends when their lives have been cut short through no fault of their own, simply to save money, smacks of callous disregard for those individuals' well-being.'

Mick Clapham MP, chair of the all-party occupational safety and health group, is pushing for a meeting with health secretary Patricia Hewitt on the issue.

He said: 'We want to put on as much pressure as we can to get NICE to review its decision.'