A Midland cancer patient who agreed to be treated at home in order to ease pressure on beds at his local hospital was amazed to be charged #20 for the privilege.

Keith Everitt said he was "gobsmacked" when the George Eliot Hospital at Nuneaton insisted he pay for medication before the treatment for bowel cancer could begin.

If he had gone to the hospital as an in-patient once a week for chemotherapy treatment on an intravenous drip, there would have been no charge. Nor would there have been a charge if he had been taking part in a clinical trial.

But because he was deemed an outpatient, the hospital invoked NHS guidelines and charged for prescriptions.

Mr Everitt, aged 59, of Wentworth Drive, Nuneaton, said he could hardly believe the response when he visited the George Eliot pharmacy to pick up cancer-busting drugs and tablets.

"They said that will be #6.65 per item, a total of #19.95. I thought, 'you must be joking'. I could have had the same treatment in hospital for nothing," Mr Everitt said.

With at least six chemotherapy sessions planned, he faced a minimum total bill of almost #120.

The shock was even greater since, according to Mr Everitt, the hospital had encouraged him to opt for home care.

He decided to cut costs by buying a three-month NHS "season ticket" at #39, enabling him to pick up the rest of his medication without paying.

In deciding to be treated at home Mr Everitt was following Government guidance.

Labour, in its 2004 General Election manifesto, promised that cancer patients would be able to receive treatment at home wherever possible. The move would ease pressure on crowded NHS wards and mean that sick patients would not have to face the stress of travelling to and from hospital.

And earlier this month the Prime Minister said his Health Service reforms would enable more people to be treated in their own homes.

George Eliot chief executive Sharon Beamish said the hospital was following NHS guidelines by charging Mr Everitt.

Ms Beamish added: "The advancement of chemotherapy treatment means that some patients can now benefit from oral chemotherapy drugs, which can be taken at home, and are provided through prescription, saving patients many repeated journeys to hospital.

"Because this treatment is provided as an outpatient service, it is subject to national prescribing guidelines. Unfortunately, prescription charge exemptions currently listed through the national prescribing guidelines do not include oral chemotherapy drugs and they are subsequently charged at the standard prescription rate."

Mr Everitt, who is asking his MP to intervene, added: "They said I could come in to the hospital and have a drip, or have tablets at home. But they recommended the tablets because it would be more convenient for me.

"I could get a bed in hospital for a day, taking up nurses' time, and it would be free. But if I take medicine at home, relieving pressure on the hospital, I have to pay. I could understand it if it was non-hospital treatment, but this is just an extension of my hospital treatment.

"It's not so much the cost, it is the principle."

Nuneaton MP Bill Olner intends to take up Mr Everitt's case.

Mr Olner (Lab) said: "I certainly intend to pursue this. I see no reason why he should have to pay to have chemotherapy at home."