Access to vital but rare cancer-fighting medicines is decided by a postcode lottery with patients left to die as a result of decisions made by primary care trusts (PCTs), new research has claimed.
Under information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from 62 of the 152 English PCTs, wide variations exist in the number of patients granted access to a variety of drugs.
The charity Rarer Cancers Forum found that in some places every single application was rejected, while elsewhere 100% were approved.
Of those patients in Mid Essex who applied for cancer drugs, 96% received them, but in neighbouring South West Essex every application was rejected.
Overall, one in four exceptional requests for cancer treatment were denied. Extrapolating the results nationally suggested that the number of people denied rare drugs stood at 1,314.
The charity's chief executive, Penny Wilson-Webb, said: "The NHS should be available to all who need it. This audit shows that the exceptional cases process is in chaos and patients are suffering."
PCTs are not forced to fund treatments which have not yet been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), or which are not being appraised.
Doctors and patients must appeal for the drugs, saying the patients represent an "exceptional case".
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The Department of Health issued good practice guidance to the NHS in December 2006 that makes it clear that funding for treatments should not be withheld solely because NICE guidance is not available, but that decisions should be made on the basis of the available evidence."