Doctor, 37, battling stage 4 bowel cancer for the second time refused life-prolonging treatment on the NHS - because she has used it before

Mari Isdale survived cancer three years ago, but has now been refused the drug cetuximab due to NHS England’s ‘treatment break’ policy

A "dedicated" doctor battling stage four bowel cancer for the second time has been refused life prolonging treatment on the NHS because she has used it before.

Mari Isdale, 37, survived cancer three years ago with the help of the drug cetuximab.

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However, because the disease returned in November, NHS England has said she cannot use it again because there was a break in her treatment.

Mari Isdale, 37, beat cancer three years ago with the help of the drug cetuximab (Photo: SWNS)

The fertility doctor was first diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and after two years of successful treatment with gruelling chemotherapy sessions and cetuximab, went into remission in 2018.

As such, she was told by doctors that her cancer treatment could stop.

Mari got back to working full-time for the NHS within a few months of completing her treatment.

She worked through the pandemic and even contracted Covid herself.

But she was diagnosed with a reoccurrence of cancer in November 2020. Even though resuming cetuximab treatment was recommended by her oncologist, the funding is not available on the NHS.

This has left Mari having to fund the treatment herself, which has already set her and her family back £25,000.

Her family has organised a crowdfunding page which has raised more than £49,000 so far.

‘Heartbreaking situation’

Mari, of Salford, said: "Battling cancer is the toughest challenge anyone can face.

"Having to fight for and privately fund, at huge financial cost, a drug that is proven to be effective and is NICE [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] approved makes an already difficult situation unbearable.

"This is a truly heartbreaking situation which no one with cancer should have to endure."

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Treatment break policy

NHS England’s “treatment break” policy imposed on advanced bowel cancer drugs such as cetuximab means planned breaks from treatment longer than six weeks are not allowed.

Should a break be taken longer than this time period, funding for treatment is no longer provided by NHS England.

Bowel Cancer UK, the leading charity for the disease, has questioned the policy, arguing it is "unclear what the rationale, reasoning and evidence base is".

NHS Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all adhere to NICE guidelines and do not have the break rule in place.

Mari said: "I’m hoping to raise awareness of, and change NHS England’s policy regarding the six-week treatment break rules which are being used to deny cancer patients such as myself, life-prolonging therapies.

"My family and I would like to thank everyone for the immense kindness and generosity in raising funds needed to pay for my ongoing treatment via our crowdfunding campaign.

"Likewise, we are grateful to all the care and help given to us by the clinicians looking after me at The Christies Hospital.

"I appeal to NHS England to remove this arbitrary and unfair rule to ensure all patients are able to access the treatments they require via the NHS in line with the rest of the UK and the NHS constitution itself."

Mari’s husband, Babur Ahmed, said: "To see my beloved wife, endure so much pain with losing so many of her dreams due to this illness at such a young age, is absolutely heartbreaking.

"It is deeply saddening to know that the same institution for whom my wife and I have dedicated our lives, would refuse her and patients like her, NICE approved life-prolonging and life-saving treatments, based on completely non-evidence based and arbitrary rules, using terms like 'cost-effectiveness'.”

Support from local MP

Her local MP, Labour's Rebecca Long-Bailey, has thrown her support behind the campaign and has written to the health secretary requesting urgent review into the implementation of the six-week treatment break rule.

Mrs Long-Bailey said: “I have written to the Health Secretary about the awful position Mari and her family are in, having to try to self-fund the treatment that might save her life or give her important extra time with her family.

"This goes against both NICE guidance and the NHS Constitution.

"Getting medical treatment should be a right for absolutely everyone, not a privilege for those who can afford it.”

In an emotional appeal for funds, relatives revealed that Mari had worked throughout the pandemic and had even suffered from Covid herself.

They wrote on the fundraising page: “Mari was a dedicated NHS doctor who had worked tirelessly caring for others but unfortunately now when she needs treatment for her own illness, she has been let down by the very institution she held so dear to her heart.

“This is why we need to ask for help and support for her life.

“In 2018, we were elated to be told that her perseverance and determination had paid off, she was cancer-free and her treatment can stop.

“She remained in complete remission for two years during which she fought back to be her usual full-of-life self.

“Devastatingly, on a routine surveillance scan, just before Christmas 2020, we were told that her cancer has recurred, and worst yet, it was now unfortunately incurable.

“To say it was like a bomb going off is an understatement, we were all numb with shock and disbelief and absolutely heartbroken.”

NHS England has been approached for comment.

Visit Mari’s fundraising page to donate.