No reimbursement for wonder drug is ‘criminal’, says Vicky Phelan

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Vicky Phelan pictured with Mayor of Limerick City and County Council James Collins, son Darragh and husband Jim at a civic reception in her honour at County Hall, Dooradoyle Picture: Kieran Ryan

Vicky Phelan pictured with Mayor of Limerick City and County Council James Collins, son Darragh and husband Jim at a civic reception in her honour at County Hall, Dooradoyle Picture: Kieran Ryan

VICKY PHELAN has said it is “criminal” that the HSE does not reimburse a “wonder drug” for cervical cancer patients who positively respond to the treatment.

The Annacotty woman, who exposed the CervicalCancer scandal in April this year, made the comments before receiving a civic honour at Limerick County Hall last week.

She said that to qualify for pembrolizumab, a candidate must have a response rate of least 55%. Ms Phelan, who had a 75% response rate, said she was approached by a 25-year-old woman who had a 90% response rate, but must fund the drug herself.

The test for the drug costs €2,000. If successful, the drug must be taken once every three weeks at a cost of €8,500 per dose. Ms Phelan is after completing her 10th dose this week, she told The Leader. 

“If somebody has the test done and pays for it themself, it cost about €2,000, to get the test done. If the result shows that they would actually respond to the drug, I think it’s criminal that they don’t then pay for the drug because they know it will work,” she said. 

At present, pembrolizumab is only licensed for three different cancers; melanoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and non-small cell lung cancer. Ms Phelan said the HSE has given the green light for the drug to be reimbursed, but a full approval process will take up to two years. 

Ms Phelan previously said that she wanted to use her €2.5m High Court settlement to create a new researcher role who would assist terminally-ill patients to source clinical trials. She said she has had a meeting with the CEOs of Irish Cancer Society and Clinical Trials Ireland, and both are drafting a job description for the new role. 

“What I am looking for is somebody will rotate between the hospitals. So, if someone goes into their oncologist and gets a terminal diagnosis, there is nobody for that person to go to if they want to look at clinical trials or alternative trials. It’s someone like a researcher with a clinical nurse background in oncology, who would be able to go off and help this person to go off and do it,” she explained. 

Since the Scally report was published and vindicated many claims made by Ms Phelan, she has built a relationship with Minister for Health Simon Harris, who is meeting with all affected women to implement Dr Scally’s recommendations. 

“We have actually built quite a relationship at this stage. I have great respect for him. I know he gets an awful bashing sometimes in the media, but I haven’t got a bad word to say about him because he has been very fair to us. If there is something he can’t do, he tells us.”

Speaking at the civic reception, Ms Phelan warned politicians that legislation must be brought in to make people more accountable for issues such as the CervicalCheck controversy - “because, otherwise, we are going to have scandal after scandal after scandal and nothing will change.”