Breast cancer sufferers from Wales are getting a potentially life-saving drug for free at a hospital where their English patients have to pay, an MP said last night.

Welsh women do not have to pay for Herceptin at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, which provides acute care for people in north Shropshire and midWales, because it is funded by their local health board.

However, patients in the early stages of the illness who live over the border must raise the £47,000 cost themselves because their primary care trust will not foot the bill, said Conservative MP for North Shropshire Owen Paterson.

Since February, all Welsh Local Health Boards have agreed to pay for the drug for women living in Wales who need it, even if they are treated over the border.

But its use in England is largely restricted to patients in an advanced stage of the illness because the drug is still to be approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the body responsible for recommending drugs for clinical use. NICE is expected to make a decision later in the year.

Mr Paterson claimed it is "a classic postcode lottery" at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital because English women are not getting the same treatment

as their Welsh neighbours. "All these women in Shropshire have paid their taxes but they have had to raise huge sums of money while women two miles away in Wales are getting the drug in the same hospital for free," he said.

No one from the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital or the Shropshire County Primary Care Trust was available for comment. But in a statement, a spokeswoman for Shropshire and Staffordshire Strategic Health Authority said: "The routine use of Herceptin will be introduced when and if NICE guidance is published.

"However, a clinician may ask a PCT to approve the use of Herceptin in exceptional personal circumstances.

"As the drug is yet to be licensed or approved by NICE, the NHS across the West Midlands is not proposing to support the routine use of Herceptin in women with early breast cancer.

"NICE guidance will only be published after the regulatory authority licences use in early breast cancer. Clinicians across the West Midlands will then prescribe and PCTs approve, in accordance with the guidance. PCTs have a legal obligation to fund NICE-approved drugs."