'Postcode lottery' extends into healthcare

A teenager based in Northern Ireland who is gravely ill has recently been told that he is unable to access a certain drug on the health service because his postcode is not an area that is entitled to receive the medication.

Curtis Croskery is 13 years old and the drug could potentially save his life. It is called polyglobin and it is being given to some patients in England already. The mother of the teenager has said that their healthcare provider is refusing to give them the drug because it has not yet been licensed.

Curtis was born with a rare genetic condition – agammaglobulinemia – which means he has a severely compromised immune system, and his body is unable to fight infection, leading to serious and even fatal consequences.

This primary immune deficiency (PID) can often be managed through specialist medications and immunoglobulin transfusions (a type of blood transfusion, of which polyglobin is one). However, Curtis was under-prescribed immunoglobulin and at the age of 5 contracted norovirus.

In people with normal immune systems, this vomiting bug usually goes away within a week or so. However, without a fully functioning immune system, it can be devastating.

Lorraine says: “Curtis is now seriously ill and has been told by his specialist at the Royal Victoria Hospital that he needs specialist treatment with the drug for a year, but the Belfast Trust have refused this.

“They said they would not fund this drug because it was not licenced – but as it is used in mainland Britain, I don’t know what the problem is”.

Curtis’s plight has been brought to the attention of Liz Maccartney, Trustee of UK PIPs (a national organisation dedicated to people with primary immune or antibody deficiencies and their carers), who says: “Without the polyglobin Curtis will not grow or develop properly as he is unable to retain adequate nutrition due to constant sickness and diarrhoea. His physical and mental development will be permanently stunted and he may die if this disease is not stopped.

“We appreciate that the treatment needs to be administered directly to his stomach by naso gastric tube and is slightly experimental. However, it has been approved and given in this form in similar circumstances in England.

“If Curtis lived in England, he would have full access to this treatment. But by the very virtue of where he lives, he faces an uncertain future. It is a disgrace and we are asking that the N.I. Minister of Health at Stormont get involved to ensure Curtis gets the treatment he so desperately needs.”