A transplant costs between £50,000 and £120,000, but the cost of caring for one patient refused a transplant in the past few years was £130,000 for the year they survived, and for another patient who survived three years it was £160,000.
‘Of those who do get a second transplant, one in three survive at least five years, and many are young people leading fulfilling lives and making a contribution to society. Denying those patients a chance of life amounts to a death sentence.’
One of those presenting the protest petition last week was acute myeloid leukaemia sufferer Emily Wellfare, who was told in December she would die if she did not get a second transplant.
She said: ‘My consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital told me it would be the only thing that could save my life. 'He mentioned he would have to apply for funding, and it never occurred to me it could be refused.’
In February the 25-year-old from Eastbourne was given the shocking news that the application had been refused.
‘My doctors said the hospital was going to give me the transplant anyway. I am so grateful they fought so hard for me, but I want to know why the NHS thought my life wasn’t worth fighting for,’ added Emily.
She was in the second year of a law degree course when she started suffering from incessant coughs and colds in early 2012. In April that year she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
After chemotherapy, Emily spent a year in remission before discovering at her routine one-year check-up that her leukaemia had returned.
She was told she would need a transplant of stem cells – a procedure once called a bone-marrow transplant.
Cells, taken from a donor, grow in the bloodstream and make healthy blood cells to replace a patients’ own damaged ones.
Emily had her first transplant in February 2014, following three more rounds of chemotherapy.
After nearly two further years in remission, it was discovered at the end of last year that Emily’s cancer had returned again.
Since having her second transplant on March 14, Emily has been well but has to take steroids, antibacterial and anti-fungal drugs and immuno-suppressants.
Emily was luckier than another patient, a 21-year-old from Nottingham, who was rejected for a second transplant.
Dr Jenny Byrne, honorary consultant haematologist at the city’s university hospital trust, said: ‘It was extremely disappointing and frustrating, given that we have plenty of patients in Nottingham who have had second transplants and are long-term survivors, fit and well and cured.’
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘The procedure isn’t being funded this year because its low clinical benefit and high cost meant that it compared poorly with other new treatments which have been considered for funding this year.’
He added that individual funding requests would be considered where exceptional need and benefit could be provided, and the policy would be reconsidered in 2017.
However, Dr Byrne said: ‘It is not true to say that individual funding requests for transplants are getting consideration because they are routinely screened out by administrators who claim the cases are not sufficiently unique, and it is impossible to demonstrate the level of exceptionality that is called for.’
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Funding decisions around treatments such as these are rightly for NHS England. We have referred the decision to them.’