A High Court judge has urged all sides to reach an agreement that could save the sight of three elderly Warwickshire patients who fear going blind if they do not receive treatment with a new drug.
The judge’s intervention led the drug manufacturers to indicate that they would contact the court on Monday and may attend the hearing.
The dramatic development came on the second day of a challenge by the three patients to Warwickshire NHS Primary Care Trust’s refusal to fund treatment with ranibizumab - trade name Lucentis.
Backed by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), they are asking Mr Justice Forbes to rule that the Warwickshire healthcare chiefs acted “unlawfully and irrationally” in refusing to pay for the drug, which is available in other parts of the country.
All three suffer from wet age-related macular degeneration (wet-AMD), the most common cause of sight loss in the UK and one which can lead to blindness in as little as three months if left untreated.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has issued a determination recommending that Lucentis should be funded by PCTs in appropriate cases, if the manufacturers, Novartis, meet the cost beyond 14 treatments with the drug.
But there has been no final agreement, and appeals are also outstanding over the Nice determination.
Meanwhile PCTs can decide whether or not to fund the drug. Because of its cost, the Warwickshire PCT has a policy of only funding treatment in “exceptional” cases and has decided the three patients who have gone to court - Raymond Liggins, aged 77, Jean Middleton, 78, and Patricia Meadows, 65 - do not come in the “exceptionality” category.
The RNIB has accused the PCT, and other trusts around the country with similar policies, of “heartlessly letting patients in their care go blind”.
On the second day of the hearing, the court heard the parties were “a hair’s breadth” away from agreement, and the judge urged both sides to contact Novartis to see if further progress could be made.
Ian Wise, appearing for the patients, later told the judge contact had been made. He said: “They intend to contact the court on Monday morning. They may attend.”
The judge said: “I look forward to seeing them in that case.”