Published: 06/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 6

An expensive life-saving cancer drug will not be prescribed to all patients who need it. This is despite a legal victory this week for a nurse with breast cancer, who asked her local primary care trust to sanction treatment.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the ruling would not pave the way for other women to claim the treatment.

Somerset Coast, Barbara Clark's local PCT, agreed to prescribe the drug Herceptin, which has not yet been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to fight the early stages of breast cancer. The agreement was reached due to Ms Clark's personal circumstances.

However, Roche, the manufacturers of the drug - which has already been prescribed to up to 40 women on the NHS - has not yet applied for a licence for its early use.

The DoH spokeswoman said that 'the government cannot dictate when drug companies apply for licences'.

'We must be sure that medicines are robustly tested and proved effective before they are made available to patients.' She added that health secretary Patricia Hewitt has already made clear that once it had been licensed the drug would be 'fast-tracked to NICE'.

Last month NICE submitted plans to the DoH on ways it could streamline its assessment process to ensure medicines are available as quickly as six months after they are licensed by drug companies.