Women with cervical cancer must be given equal access to life-changing drug treatment immediately to extend their lives.
That is the call from Labour TD Alan Kelly who is pleading with Health Minister Simon Harris to grant a number of women access to costly treatment as time “is not on their side”.
Mr Kelly was joined by cancer patients in Leinster House as TDs were briefed on how the drug Pembro was proven to make a difference to their treatment.
Patient and campaigner Vicky Phelan has described how Pembro has improved her life, is better and easier than chemotherapy and should be given to women with cervical cancer that it can help.
Ms Phelan and over 200 other women have been granted access to the costly drug after being caught up in the cervical cancer misdiagnosis scandal.
However, other women to whom Pembro has not been made freely available are now appealing to the government to open up access to it.
Treatment with Pembro costs about €8,500 every three weeks.
Ms Phelan said there was potentially less than another 100 women like her who needed the drug.
Fellow patients Aine Morgan from Galway and Tracey Brennan from Roscommon explained how their lives could potentially be extended with access to Pembro, which they cannot get.
Ms Morgan was told in 2015 she had just two years to live. Pembro would now give her more time.
“Luckily enough, I've passed the three-year mark," she said. "There is nothing out there and to be honest with you, I think I am too young to die. There are other women like myself out there.”
Ms Brennan said cervical cancer patients were dealing with enough on a daily basis and needed the government to push through a deal now for access to Pembro.
Mr Kelly said that pre-testing showed Pembro benefited certain women and had already been sanctioned in the United States.
From a drug view, this was a “last chance” for some patients, he said.
The government has said Pembro has not been EU approved but it has asked health chiefs to look at a possible scheme for equal access to the drug.
“We need equity of access to the Pembro drug which has had such a dramatic impact on Vicky's health and her life. We need this for all women. Women who across the country who need this drug haven't really the time for this to go on for very long,” added Mr Kelly.
It was unacceptable that women affected needed to go around fundraising for the drug, Mr Kelly said.
It is understood that the government has asked the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, which tests medicines, to look at extending access to Pembro.