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NHS U-turn joy for cancer patient

PUBLISHED: 19:28 23 July 2008 | UPDATED: 09:02 13 July 2010

Terminal cancer patient Barry Humphrey can now look forward to treatment that could extend his life, after a drug funding u-turn by health chiefs.

The former fireman is set to get a two-month £5,000 trial previously denied him by NHS Norfolk.

Terminal cancer patient Barry Humphrey can now look forward to treatment that could extend his life, after a drug funding u-turn by health chiefs.

The former fireman is set to get a two-month £5,000 trial previously denied him by NHS Norfolk.

His despair turned to hope in a phone call received at his North Walsham home on Tuesday, after the health authority re-examined his case, following a damning independent review that said the original refusal was wrong and badly handled.

There were hugs, kisses and tears in the garden at Kimberley Road as Mr Humphrey, 59, received the news, with wife Hazel at his side.

A relieved Mrs Humphrey said: “It's been a big fight, but it's been worth it.”

And her husband added: “I can get on with my life now,” and described the call from medical director Dr Bryan Heap as sounding like “a losing football manager.”

But there was a note of caution in the reaction of local MP Norman Lamb, who helped the Humphreys fight their case.

The Liberal Democrat health spokesman said he was thrilled for the couple, adding: “It has been incredibly difficult for them, and this will be a tremendous relief.”

But there remained a need to overhaul the way the panel operated, ensure lessons were learned from the faults exposed and make sure other patients did not suffer in the same way.

Mr Humphrey, who is due to talk to his cancer specialist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge this week, and hopes to start treatment as soon as possible, said he was not sure whether the drugs would help, but was pleased to have the chance to give them a try.

Commenting about the u-turn, made during a session behind closed doors at this week's NHS Norfolk board meeting, he said: “I was not sure they would agree, but they would have been silly not to, because our case was so strong,” he added.

During 25 years as a London firefighter he saved many lives, but has struggled to prolong and improve his own after being diagnosed with a rare liver cancer last year. His doctors recommended the drug Sorafenib, but NHS Norfolk refused to make him an exception to their policy of not using such non-routine drugs until they were evaluated.

Mr Humphrey lost two further appeals, but a new review by Suffolk health authority recommended Norfolk to reverse its decision, having failed to take account of his circumstances, including his role as carer to his 91-year-old mother, deaf-blind daughter and insulin-dependent wife who also has angina. And it criticised officials for poor communication and delays in the handling of the case.

NHS Norfolk failed to respond to those criticisms in a statement immediately after the meeting but Dr Heap said they “welcomed and valued” the recommendations of the Suffolk panel which had “benefited from additional opinions from clinicians” not available to the Norfolk team.

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