Pembrolizumab must be available to all Cervical Cancer patients

27 November 2018

Labour Party Health spokesperson, Alan Kelly TD, has called on the Minister for Health to make the drug Pembrolizumab available to all cervical cancer patients who need it.

Deputy Kelly said:

“I am calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris to make the drug Pembrolizumab available for all cervical cancer patients who require it here in Ireland.

“Pembrolizumab has received much attention because of Vicky Phelan’s use of this drug. Pembro has had very significant effects on Vicky’s rumours and on her cancer and has given her a much better quality of life. It is a drug that has shown to have a significant impact on tumours in some cases of those affected.

“Currently, the drug is not on clinical trial, it is off licence. Leading Irish oncologists have requested that Pembro be made available on trial or a managed access scheme or for some method to be found so that it can be provided to cancer patients. Oncologists know that this drug has the benefit of allowing patients to be tested in advance to determine their potential response to it. Dr David Fennelly and Prof John Crown have written to the Minister for Health months ago with a proposal for making Pembro available. This was rejected.

“While I wholeheartedly agree with the 221 women affected by the CervicalCheck scandal having access to Pembro, there is now a clear inequity of access because other cervical cancer patients do not have access. It is morally right that the State as a gesture of good will is paying for this drug to those who have been affected by the cervical check crisis, but there needs to be equity of access for other women affected by this disease as well.

“It is legally dubious that one cohort is getting treatment but not another. How is it legally possible for this country to say that a group of women who are devastated by the CervicalCheck scandal have access to a drug and have it paid for by the State, but women outside that cohort should not have the same entitlement? Under Article 40.3 of the constitution is this fair? I don’t think that a Government decision can distinguish between two categories of people in this way and their health needs.

“We need to have a plan in place to ensure there is equity of access to this drug for those who need it. We need to put a plan in place quickly because time is not on the side of many of these people. The Government have decided to pay for it. It is now time to allow clinicians, who have the best interests of their patients at heart to make the decisions around whether access to this drug is needed.

“The Minister needs to give legal clarity on the availability of the Pembro and give a timeline as to when this drug will be available to more patients and he needs to do that immediately.”

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