'This is a death sentence': Pensioner with aneurysm that could kill her any minute told NHS won't fund 15,000 surgery
'I don't want to die. I want to see my great grand-daughter grow up'
When great-grandmother Barbara Judge was told that she needed an operation on her aortic aneurysm and her case had been referred to a special funding panel, she assumed it was a formality.
But 10 days ago, the 72-year-old received a letter which said her local NHS trust would not pay for the treatment.
Happy family: Barbara with her grandaughter Alana Cooke and great grandaughter Ellie Hall
Without the life-saving operation, Barbara fears she could die any time. A rupture in the aneurysm – a blood balloon on the aorta – could kill her in minutes.
Surgeons in London are confident they can save the grandmother-of-five, but the NHS believe they cannot afford to pay for the procedure.
Barbara's daughter, Caroline, said: 'It is a death sentence.'
She fears her mother will not live to see her great-granddaughter, Ellie, celebrate her second birthday.
Mother-of-three, Barbara, said: 'I cried when I found out. It was such a shock.
'I see Ellie every day. She's so beautiful, I want to watch her grow up.
'I don't want to die.'
Barbara recently celebrated Ellie's first birthday, showering her with gifts including a toy teapot, clothes, and mobile phone charms – the pair have one each from a matching set.
She blinks back tears at the idea she might not see the todler's second birthday.
Barbara, from Holbrooks, Coventry, went to her GP with back pain in September.
She was quickly referred to hospital, where a specialist diagnosed the aortic aneurysm.
'I don't want to die': Barbara Judge, from Coventry, has been denied potentially life-saving treatment
The widow was judged to be too old and ill to survive open heart surgery, but doctors said she was fit enough for a keyhole operation to fit a tailor-made stent.
A specialist from the Royal Free Hospital even travelled to Coventry to examine Barbara before agreeing to operate on her in London.
'The doctor said it could kill me if they don't fix it,' said Barbara, who spent several years working at Dunlop, British Leyland and at the old Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital.
'He said it was urgent and this was the only option.'
Last month Barbara received a copy of a letter that city health trust NHS Coventry sent to her consultant.
said her case had been referred to a special panel to decide whether to
fund the 15,000 surgery. But when the second letter, denying
treatment, came through the family were devastated.
Barbara said: 'The doctor says I could be fit and healthy enough to carry on playing with Ellie for years if I have the operation.
'I have paid taxes all my life – I still pay taxes now on my pension. Why would they refuse to pay for this operation when I really need it'
The letter did not explain why the panel refused to pay for surgery that has previously been funded for other Coventry patients.
WHAT IS AN ANEURYSM
An aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall. As blood passes through the weakened blood vessel, the blood pressure causes it to bulge outwards like a balloon.
The most commonly used surgical treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm is grafting. This involves removing the affected section of the aorta and replacing it with a piece of synthetic tubing known as a graft.
There are two ways that grafting can be done:
Open surgery – a large incision is made in your abdomen to expose the aorta and insert the graftEndovascular surgery – this involves sticking a thin tube, called a catheter, into one of the veins in your legs and then guiding it to the aorta. The graft is then moved through the catheter and used to reinforce the aorta wall. (This is the treatment that Barbara has been denied)
It said the panel considered the available evidence, but also discussed how many other patients could need the operation and the need to be fair to all Coventry residents before reaching a decision.
As a result Barbara's family fear she was rejected due to her age and because local health chiefs did not want to set a precedent that would force them to fund similar surgery in future.
Alana Cooke, one of Barbara's five grandchildren, said: 'No-one has told us why they won't fund it. The consultant is at a loss, just like us.
'If Nan has to keep going into hospital it will cost them more than 15,000, so it doesn't make sense.
'It's disgusting. They are discriminating against her and leaving her to die.'
Barbara's family have contacted her MP and the health service ombudsman. They also plan to lobby health secretary Andrew Lansley and appeal against the decision.
City health trust NHS Coventry said that Barbara's age was not a factor in its decision to refuse funding for her operation.
It admitted it had funded the procedure – a fenestrated endovascular aortic aneurysm repair – for patients in Coventry before.
The operation involves making a small incision near the groin and travelling up the artery to fit a stent at the point of the aneurysm.
However NHS Coventry said new research, published just last month, suggested the evidence for the benefits of this procedure was weak.
It also said the surgery was not routinely funded elsewhere.
A spokeswoman said the previous operations were funded before May 2010 as exceptional or unique cases.
At that point the trust decided the surgery was no longer exceptional – instead it represented a new service.