By James Somper
A spinal tumour patient claims health bosses have given him a death sentence after he was denied access to a life-saving machine paid for by the public – and offered a type of therapy which is £10,000 more expensive.
Dad-of-two Gary Tyas, 55, has fought cancer for 15 years – enduring numerous operations and rounds of radiotherapy which have left him with epilepsy and memory loss.
But his request to receive surgery from a potentially lifesaving ‘CyberKnife’ machine on his choroid plexus carcinoma, a rare type of brain and spinal cancer usually found among children, has been turned down by NHS England.
The CyberKnife at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which cost £3.5 million, was funded entirely by public donations and is available for use by NHS and private patients, is capable of giving patients “a second chance at life” by targeting cells with x-rays.
Instead, Gary claims he has been offered tomotherapy on palliative grounds despite the fact it will cost the NHS £26,860 – £10,000 more than the £16,348 cost of the CyberKnife treatment – and his doctors have said that it would be ineffective.
And the family were left furious when the ‘death sentence’ letter bringing the news Gary’s request for the life-saving treatment had been denied was sent in an envelope with a second class stamp.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital said a funding request for Gary’s CyberKnife surgery – required when a treatment is not routinely funded on the NHS – was declined by NHS England’s Individual Funding Request Screening Group.
Gary, a former head of grounds and gardens at the University of Birmingham, said: “I feel like my life is being held to ransom by a group of pen pushers.
“I feel like I’ve been treated like a cheap piece of meat.
“It’s like I’ve been given a death sentence.
“Time is not on our side.
“I spend my life waiting for the postman to bring me a letter about when my next scan will be, to see what the condition of the tumour is.
“My next scan is the day after my son’s wedding in September, but after this all we can do is hope.
“I hope nobody else ever has to go through what we’ve had to go through.”
Gary’s wife, Claire, 56, added: “After all the battles we’ve gone through, to have this turned down is just appalling.
“To be told that they had just handed down a death sentence to my husband in a penny pinching, second class franked brown envelope really hurt.
“The callus nature of a photocopied information leaflet and a scanned signature just disgusts us.
“If Gary doesn’t have this treatment, he’ll die.
“I lost my mother to a brain tumour, I don’t want my sons to have to face the same.
“Gary feels like he’s being thrown on the scrapheap and that he’s being left to die.
“He’s been through the mill and has suffered enough.”
Gary was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in August 2003 aged 40 and although the mass was successfully removed, he was left with a range of devastating side effects including memory loss and had to relearn how to walk and read.
In 2008 these symptoms meant he was forced to give up his beloved job, before a tumour on his spine was later found by doctors on Christmas Eve 2015.
And despite more initially successful surgery in February this year, in April Gary’s family were given the heartrending news the tumour in his spine had regrown.
Claire said while the quality of care Gary has received from hospital staff has been excellent, the NHS’s funding decision has made it difficult for her family to deal with the praise the institution has received for its 70th anniversary year.
Claire said: “Gary is the centre of my life, the centre of my onion. It’s our battle, our fight and our life together
“He’s a wonderful man my husband, he makes me a better person.
“Without him I wouldn’t have the two wonderful sons I have. He’s all I know.
“But in a way, this is slowly destroying us. We keep running out of energy.
“We keep thinking we’ve turned a page but inevitably you know what’s coming.
“I was reading all those wonderful quotes from Nye Bevan.
“He said: ‘No society can legitimately call itself civilized if sick person should be denied medical aid because of a lack of means.’
‘But we are being denied precisely what the premise of the organisation is.
“I’ve watched all these documentaries about the NHS this year but I’ve had to turn them off in disgust.”
A statement for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said: “The Trust submitted an Individual Funding Request for use of Cyberknife following consideration by a multi-disciplinary team.
“The request was declined, as was a subsequent appeal.”
A spokesperson for NHS England said: “These are difficult medical and complex decisions.
“If a treatment is not routinely provided by the NHS, a patient’s clinician can submit an Individual Funding Request, which is considered on a case by case basis.”