Salmond quizzed again on cancer patient Maureen Fleming's case

From Democracy Live: The first minister is again quizzed about access to cancer drugs

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The case of a West Dunbartonshire grandmother who is fighting to receive a life-prolonging cancer drug was raised for the second time in Holyrood.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont quizzed Alex Salmond about Maureen Fleming's treatment for bowel cancer.

The first minister said he and Health Secretary Alex Neil had now both met the 63-year-old and her husband.

Mr Salmond said Mrs Fleming had been refused the drug cetuximab because she had previously had chemotherapy.

The exchanges were pointed and precise. Mr Salmond eschewed rhetoric, disdained conflict.

Indeed, at one point, he said he was not going to "rise to the bait" dangled in his direction by Ms Lamont.

His answers were detailed, explaining the clinical basis of decisions on drugs: general licensing plus individual appeals.

Ms Lamont pointed out that this scarcely assisted Mrs Fleming.

He told the chamber that the manufacturer of the clinical product had specifically requested that it was not used for those who had had chemotherapy.

However, the first minister admitted that a better way of allocating drugs to patients could be found.

Mrs Fleming's story has been highlighted in the media over the past few weeks and was raised by Ms Lamont at FMQs last week.

The Bonhill resident said that she was prepared to move to Newcastle where consultants there say she might be able to get the treatment on the NHS.

During First Minister's Questions, Ms Lamont said that while the NHS should be free at the point of demand "for too many patients it only becomes free at the point it embarrasses the first minister".

She told the chamber: "The one point we want to make to the first minister is the system is not working. If you've got examples like Mrs Fleming, it simply is not working and we need to address that problem."

'Better system'

Ms Lamont demanded an assurance from Mr Salmond that decisions on drug treatments for patients "are made on clinical grounds and not grounds of costs".

Maureen Fleming Maureen Fleming's case has been raised twice during Holyrood's First Minister's Questions

The first minister responded by saying such matters were "clinically determined".

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) currently decides which drugs can be used by the NHS in Scotland, with patients then able to make individual treatment requests to try to get treatments not yet approved by it.

The system has recently been reviewed by independent expert Professor Philip Routledge and Mr Salmond said: "What we can do in Scotland is we can find a better system in terms of the SMC and take forward the recommendations of the Routledge review.

"I also believe we can find a better system for individual patient requests."

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