VICTIMS of York's asbestos timebomb have been given a major boost after a medicine rationing organisation ruled they are entitled to a vital drug.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has decided the drug Alimta should be made available to patients with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.
The York Asbestos Support Group today hailed the decision, saying that while the drug was not a cure, it could both extend life and alleviate symptoms for patients and was the only treatment available.
"The NICE decision brings to a conclusion an approval process which started almost three years ago and which led to one of the worst examples of the health postcode lottery," said the group's delighted founder Kim Daniells.
"Hundreds of patients across the UK were refused treatment with this drug whilst those in Scotland, the North West and North East of England could access treatment."
She said NICE had rejected an appeal against an original decision to approve the use of the drug for the treatment of the condition, which was a fatal tumour of the lung pleura caused by exposure to asbestos.
"In the last three years, many hundreds of patients have been diagnosed with the condition and gone on to die without ever being able to access the treatment. Hopefully this situation will now come to an end."
She said NICE's guidance meant primary care trusts would now be obliged to provide uniform treatment.
They would be given the option of a 90-day lead-in period following the official announcement, but she hoped the guidance would result in mesothelioma sufferers gaining prompt access to the treatment they needed and deserved.
The decision could benefit former York Carriageworks employees who fall victim in future to mesothelioma.
Staff were widely exposed to deadly asbestos dust fibres during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and even in the 1980s after some measures had been brought in to provide protection to staff.
Scores of ex-workers have died from the devastating cancer.
A NICE spokesman said Alimta was being recommended as a possible treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma in people with advanced disease, and whose cancer was not suitable for surgical removal and who met certain other conditions.