AA Gill's final article: 'Cancer drug can offer more life - but only if you can pay'

Revered journalist AA Gill, who died three weeks after revealing he had the "full English" of cancers, dedicated his final article to his experience of the NHS.

In the article, published in the Sunday Times magazine (£) a day after his death, the restaurant critic revealed how the NHS could not afford to give him a cutting-edge, potentially life-extending cancer treatment.

But he said that the service triumphed with its "human connection" where the private healthcare does not.

The columnist said the therapy - costing up to £100,000 a year - may have helped him live "considerably" longer and is the weapon of choice for "every oncologist in the First World".

Gill was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to his neck and pancreas and the tumours that he had were inoperable and unsuitable for radiotherapy.

In the article, he said that a consultant oncologist told him that a pioneering treatment for cancer, immunotherapy, would give him his best chance at fighting the disease, but it was not available on the NHS.

He wrote: "As yet, immunotherapy isn't a cure, it's a stretch more life, a considerable bit of life. More life with your kids, more life with your friends, more life holding hands, more life shared, more life spent on earth - but only if you can pay."

"The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), the quango that acts as the quartermaster for the health service, won't pay," he wrote.

Gill said that the prohibitive cost of nivolumab was £60,000 to £100,000 a year for a lung cancer patient, around four times the cost of chemotherapy.

AA Gill underwent a course of chemotherapy. Credit: PA

He said the consultant told his fiancee Nicola Formby: "If he had insurance, I'd put him on immunotherapy - specifically, nivolumab. As would every oncologist in the First World. But I can't do it on the National Health."

However he said that "old men who think they're going to die anyway aren't very effective activists" and do not see the "public or press pressure that young mothers' cancers and kids' diseases get".

He wrote: "It was the first question I asked my oncologist, Dr Conrad Lewanski. 'Why is this such a bad place to get cancer, when we have lots of hospitals, when we teach doctors from all over the world, when we've won more Nobel prizes than the French?'. 'It's the nature of the health service,' he says."

The writer, who previously said he wanted to have his treatment on the NHS due to a sense of "human connection", instead was treated with a course of platinum chemotherapy at the Charing Cross Hospital in London.

He told how, in the weeks before he died, he was rushed to hospital in pain "by miles and miles the worst thing I have ever lived through".

After doctors discovered his pancreatic tumour had grown to the size of a fist they offered more chemotherapy.

Gill finished the article with a conversation he had with a cancer nurse:

"(She said) 'You're supposed to be with me down in chemotherapy. I saw your name. Why are you up here?'," he wrote.

"'Well, it turns out the chemo isn't working'. Her shoulders sag and her hand goes to her head. 'F***, f***, that's dreadful.' I think she might be crying.

"I look away, so might I.

"You don't get that with private healthcare."