AA Gill's last article on cancer fight and the NHS
Revered critic AA Gill described in his final article how the NHS was unable to give him potentially life-extending cancer treatment.
But he praised the service saying it triumphed on a human level where private health care does not.
The Sunday Times columnist died on Saturday aged 62 just three weeks after revealing he had the “full English of cancers”.
Gill wrote that he had been denied expensive therapy that costs up to £100,000 a year which could have helped him live “considerably” longer.
The writer, a former smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to his neck and pancreas with tumours that were inoperable and unsuitable for radiotherapy.
He described how a consultant oncologist told him that a pioneering new treatment for cancer, immunotherapy, would give him his best chance at fighting the disease, but it was not available on the NHS.
“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the quango that acts as the quartermaster for the health service, won’t pay,” he wrote.
Gill was told the treatment would be “particularly successful” with his kind of cancer, but told his wife Nicola Formby: “If he had insurance, I’d put him on immunotherapy – specifically, nivolumab. As would every oncologist in the First World. But I can’t do it on the National Health.”
Gill said that the prohibitive cost of nivolumab was £60,000 to £100,000, around four times the cost of chemotherapy.
He added: “As yet, immunotherapy isn’t a cure, it’s a stretch more life, a considerable bit of life. More life with your kids, more life with your friends, more life holding hands, more life shared, more life spent on earth – but only if you can pay.”
The father of four previously said he wanted to have his treatment on the NHS due to a sense of “human connection” but highlighted the health service’s performance in international oncology rankings.
He wrote: “It was the first question I asked my oncologist, Dr Conrad Lewanski. ‘Why is this such a bad place to get cancer, when we have lots of hospitals, when we teach doctors from all over the world, when we’ve won more Nobel prizes than the French?’ ‘It’s the nature of the health service,’ he says.”
Gill, who was married to current Home Secretary Amber Rudd in the 1990s, eventually underwent a course of platinum chemotherapy at Charing Cross Hospital in London.
Gill ended the article, with a conversation he had with a cancer nurse.
“(She said) ‘You’re supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?’,” he wrote.
“‘Well, it turns out the chemo isn’t working’. Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. ‘F***, f***, that’s dreadful.’ I think she might be crying.
“I look away, so might I.
“You don’t get that with private healthcare.”