A terminally-ill cancer patient has been forced to pay £18,000 for cancer treatment which would be free if he lived in England.
Paul Cowan, 56, from Cardiff, was told six weeks ago that he had terminal liver cancer.
He has since cashed in his pension, cleared his savings and been helped by friends to foot the bill for Selective Internal Radiotherapy Treatment (SIRT).
SIRT, dubbed ‘the magic bullet’ because it targets only liver tumours, is not funded by the NHS in Wales but is available on the NHS in England in a limited number of cases.
Mr Cowan said his bill includes £10,000 for four nights on an NHS ward at Cardiff’s University Hospital of Wales.
The Royal British Legion handyman, who has worked since leaving school aged 15, is furious that, after a lifetime of paying taxes, he won’t get at least his hospital stay paid for by the NHS.
Although the treatment won’t save his life, doctors estimate it may lengthen it by as long as 19 months.
“Time is of the essence so I have to pay, but I feel very angry and upset,” said Mr Cowan, who lives in St Mellons with his wife, Penny.
“I’ve paid tax for 40 years. Battling cancer is horrendous, but when you have to battle again for treatment you feel you’re eligible for because you’ve paid taxes all your life, it’s even worse.”
Mr Cowan said he always expected the NHS would be there when he needed it.
“The savings I wanted to give to my sons and wife have been used to pay for this and I’ve had to cash in my pension. It’s left me skint.”
He stressed the hospital care he’s received has been ‘excellent’ and understands the NHS can’t pay for everything, but hoped he would get some help.
“I was happy to pay £8,000 for the treatment but was horrified to be told it would be so much more to go to hospital.”
Mr Cowan will spend four nights during two separate stays on an NHS ward at UHW as part of his treatment.
“How they come to the figure of £18,000 I don’t know,” he added. “I’ll get an itemised bill at the end. I’ve paid the money to the hospital’s private patients’ finance department but I’ll be on a general ward not a private ward.”
Mr Cowan, who is due to start the treatment on August 1, claims his NHS doctors at Velindre and UHW agreed it could help after he found out about it on the internet.
“I was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May 2012 and that was treated but then it spread to my liver,” he explained.
“When I was told the bad news that it was terminal six weeks ago, I was left in Velindre thinking ‘that’s it’.
“Me and my wife Penny looked on the internet and found SIRT so I went back to Velindre and they said they hadn’t mentioned it because they couldn’t promote services outside the NHS. But my oncologist Robert Jones said the treatment would benefit me.”
Mr Cowan, who has two sons Matthew, 26, and David, 30, said: “I applied for the treatment and was told I’d have to pay a top-up on NHS costs because SIRT isn’t available with funding from the Welsh Assembly. You pay for it privately.”
A spokesman for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “We are very sorry for any confusion over the cost of Mr Cowan’s self-funded treatment and any upset caused to him or his family because of that.
“All patients have the right, through an agreed all-Wales approach, to submit a request to personally pay for treatments that are not approved for funding by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence or other official body.
“In instances where there is limited clinical evidence on the benefits of a treatment, patients will be asked to fund the full cost of that care, not only any drug or surgical procedure undertaken, but the full cost of any diagnostic or other medical input as well as their in-patient stay.
“This is a relatively new approach, one that only a few patients have chosen to pursue. We clearly need to look at how we communicate this option to patients like Mr Cowan.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England, said: “SIRT is not currently routinely funded by the NHS in England. NHS England has produced an interim policy on SIRT which highlights reasons when SIRT may be funded on a limited basis in a small number of centres to help gather more evidence on the treatment’s relative effectiveness.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We care greatly about providing the best care for the people of Wales and our commitment is to providing high value treatments fairly to all.
“SIRT is not routinely available on the NHS in Wales, but a request for funding can be made and considered by the all-Wales Individual Patient Funding Request panel should exceptionality be demonstrated by the patient’s clinician.”