Former soldier who took on NHS bosses in fight to get life-saving drug dies of terminal cancer aged 37Father of two spent six months battling to get drug AvastinPostcode lottery meant he could not get medicine that was available to patients living just a few miles awayEventually lied about address to get treatment – but it was too late
13:12 GMT, 7 June 2012
15:00 GMT, 7 June 2012
A former soldier who bravely took on penny-pinching NHS bosses in his fight to get a drug that could save his life has died of terminal cancer aged 37.
Mark Bannister, from Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, spent six months of his precious time trying to obtain the drug Avastin – but by the time he got it, it was too late.
Wife Karen, 33, revealed how her husband was forced to lie to doctors to get hold of the life-prolonging treatment that had been denied to him because of a cruel postcode lottery.
Torn apart: Mark Bannister, pictured with wife Karen and children Sophie and Thomas, died on Monday after a nine-year battle with cancer
The father of two succumbed to the brain tumour he had been battling for nine years at around 6am on Monday morning, with his wife at his side.
Grieving Mrs Bannister paid tribute to
her husband, who served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia during nine years
in the army, saying: 'The Avastin didn’t have any effect but we had to
fight for six months in order to get it.
'In all that time his tumour had been
growing. In the end, he had to claim he was living at another
address in order to get the treatment.
'Who knows what would have
happened if he had got the drug sooner – I truly believe it would have
'He was forced to lie. We were told his
chemotherapy wasn’t working and he had to either let the tumour grow or
have the Avastin – we didn’t have a choice. The only way we could get the drug was
for Mark to register at a doctor in Sheffield and say he was living at a
'Within 24 hours his application had been approved and within a week he was having his first treatment.
'How can it be so easy for some people
to get it and other people are told they can’t have it at all
Brave: Mr Bannister fought in the army fro nine years before he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2003
system is completely unfair. We felt bad about lying, but we had gone
down the moral route and spent six months fighting for nothing.
'We had to lie while Mark was still
alive, but I don’t care who knows now. I would urge anyone else who is
going through the same thing to do what we did.
'I only wish we had done it sooner.'
In December it was reported how Mark’s long battle with cancer had culminated in a fight for Avastin after his consultant said it could give him vital time with his daughter Sophie, seven, and son Thomas, five.
But NHS bosses refused to fund the medicine, even though it was readily available to patients just 15 miles from where Mark lived.
The 37-year-old was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2003 but after a long and determined battle he was told in August 2011 that his cancer had spread.
Avastin, which works by preventing the blood vessels reaching the tumour and costs 21,000 for a ten-month course, was his last hope.
Without it, doctors said he had just 12 months left to live.
But letters to the Cancer Drugs Fund as well as East Midlands Specialised Commissioning Group were knocked back.
The drug is not currently ‘readily approved’ as a treatment by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice), which means funding for it sits with the Cancer Drugs Fund.
NHS Lincolnshire said decisions to fund treatments are based on clear clinical evidence, cost-effectiveness, the benefit to patient and consideration of national guidance.
A spokesman from EMSCG said in December: 'We were sorry to hear about this patient’s individual circumstances. Unfortunately, we are unable to comment further on individual cases.
'Currently, Avastin is not readily approved by Nice guidance and therefore funding for treatment that falls outside of Nice sits with Cancer Drugs Fund.
'Decisions about whether to fund drugs from the Cancer Drugs Fund are made solely by cancer specialists.'
Helpless: Mrs Bannister said her terminally ill husband was forced to lie to doctors to get the life-prolonging treatment he had been denied because of a postcode lottery
A statement from the East Midlands Cancer Drugs Fund read: 'The panel is clear that it made the correct clinical judgement. It was a judgement made on purely clinical grounds and not in any way for financial reasons.
'Of the 10 Cancer Drugs Funds in England, the vast majority do not fund the use of Avastin for the treatment of Glioblastoma. Indeed EM CDF is aware that only two routinely fund this treatment.
'The East Midlands CDF committed 10,025,749 to be spent on cancer drugs up to the end of March 2012. The EMCDF processed 766 applications and 94 per cent of all requests were supported.'
NHS East Midlands does not fund Avastin for brain cancer patients, but NHS Yorkshire and the Humber does.
This means it is available for patients just 15 miles away in Scunthorpe, and in Sheffield where Mark had all of his cancer treatment, but not in Gainsborough.
With an uncertain future ahead of them, the Bannisters renewed their vows last November on their tenth wedding anniversary.
Mrs Bannister said: 'The nearest surgery where Mark would have been allowed the treatment was just five miles away. Mark could have walked it.'
Grief: By the time Mr Bannister got the drug in February, his cancer was too advanced for it to have any effect
Mr Bannister’s application was approved in February but his cancer, which he had fought since the age of 29, was already too advanced for the drug to have any affect and was affecting his balance and coordination.
His wife said: 'I know he’s been poorly and we all knew it would happen at some point, but it is still such a shock.
'He fell over on Thursday and he fell against the bedroom door so I had to call an ambulance to come and get him out but he only went into hospital because the paramedics were worried about his neck.
'He was supposed to be coming out but they couldn’t discharge him because of the bank holiday.
'As far as we were concerned, he was coming home. He had been tired over the last few weeks but he had still been his normal self.
'When he was in hospital he had been laughing and joking with the nurses and giving them stick like he always has done, but then he started complaining of head pains and he was put on stronger painkillers.
'After that he was a lot drowsier and when I took the kids into see him on Sunday night he was sleeping peacefully. Then I got the call to say he had taken a turn for the worse in the early hours of Monday morning.
'As he died, I was holding him and cuddling him and telling him I loved him. Only a few more days and it would have been exactly nine years since his diagnosis.'
In the last year, the family have tried to pack as many memories into the time Mark had left, taking their children on holidays to Butlins and on days out.
Before his death, Mrs Bannister prepared memory boxes for Sophie and Thomas, leaving them special photographs and medals from his time in the army.
His wife added: 'I don’t think his death has sunk in yet. I don’t think I totally believe it. I still have to break it to the children and I don’t know what I will say to them. Because they are still so young they won’t understand it for a while until they realise he’s not coming home.
'I won’t know what words I will use to tell them until I actually have to say them.
'Mark has written them both letters saying how much he loves them and how he is sorry he won’t get to see them grow up. He was such a loving husband and father, there was nothing he wouldn’t have done for his family.
'People often complain about the smallest things, but Mark never once complained, he was so brave.
'Even after he got the Avastin he continued to campaign against the postcode lottery on behalf of others and I want to continue to do the same. It’s what he would have wanted.'