DOCTORS, consultants, politicians and patients united in anger today as The Press revealed the extent of the multi-million pound debts faced by our health trust.

During 2007, more than 1,000 people were denied treatment by North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) - including hundreds of people suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer.

The patients were refused treatment by the trust's controversial vetting panel - which assess cases on an individual basis.

Dr Peter Hall, a York Hospital consultant in pain and anaesthesia, said: "It shouldn't be that if you live in one area, you can get a cancer drug or a pain injection, and if you live in another area you can't.

"I know that people in North Yorkshire would be able to get the care they needed if they lived in another area and for a clinician that is extremely frustrating.

"I would like to give patients under my care the very best treatment there is, but that is not possible at the moment."

York GP Dr Brian McGregor also vented his anger and renewed calls for the PCT's debt to be paid off by Yorkshire and the Humber's Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which is expecting to end the year with a staggering £280 million surplus.

He said: "As a GP working in an area in deficit, it makes me very frustrated that there is potential for writing off debt and starting anew, but they are refusing to do this.

"Patients in North Yorkshire are paying the price for the mismanagement that went on in previous PCTs and that is not fair.

"Every PCT has an individual case panel, but ours is more draconian than other areas and it is contributing to a postcode lottery for healthcare.

"Our historic debt is like a millstone around the neck of the health service in this area and it is patients who are suffering."

Of the 2,797 cases referred to the PCT's individual case panel last year, nearly 40 per cent were turned down.

But doctors will only refer their patients to the panel if they feel they will meet the PCT's strict criteria, meaning 1,083 rejected patients is just the tip of the iceberg.

Vale of York MP Anne McIntosh said: "I find it disgraceful that more than 1,000 patients in North Yorkshire have been denied treatment, when the SHA has got a £280 million surplus."

But a spokeswoman for the SHA said they had no plans to use the expected surplus to pay back the debt of North Yorkshire and York PCT. She said: "To put it in context, £280million is an appropriate surplus that would allow us to run the NHS for just under two weeks."

PCT - Why vetting panels are absolutely necessary'

BOSSES at North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust said the panel was absolutely necessary to ensure a "consistent, equitable and evidence-based approach to patient care".

A PCT spokeswoman said decisions by the panel were made on evidence from sources such as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), Prodigy, the Cochrane database and Royal Colleges, alongside local clinical consensus.

She said: "The PCT commissions a wide range of services from the hospital trusts and where services are not routinely commissioned by the NHS, or where treatments are new and not yet fully evidence based, the PCT operates the individual case panel which reviews the clinical information, provided by the patient's consultant and GP.

"All PCTs have to operate a similar panel in order to make decisions about commissioning complex and unusual treatments that may be required on an individual basis.

"The PCT has a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer's money is spent appropriately and on treatments that provide real benefit to patients.

"It is responsible for providing health care services which meet the needs of the entire population and therefore has to balance the potential benefits for the individual patient with the health needs of the rest of the population."

Our campaign

THE PRESS launched its Let Your Doctor Decide campaign in January last year after North Yorkshire and York PCT radically reduced the number of treatments that were routinely commissioned.

A range of hospital procedures were suspended and only cases deemed "exceptional" were granted treatment through the PCT's vetting panel.

The cost-cutting measure sparked fury from GPs, who said it interfered with their own medical judgements.

Last April, we won a major victory, when many of the treatments that were originally suspended were made available again.

But others, such as IVF and some back injections, are still only accessible through the panel.