Health Secretary Alan Johnson has said that a cancer patient should not be allowed to pay for top-up drugs if she wants to continue receiving free treatment on the NHS.
Mr Johnson said that if co-payments are permitted, they will sound the death knell for a founding principle of the NHS, and lead to a two-tier health service.
He was referring to the case of Colette Mills, a former nurse, who has been told she will be denied free NHS treatment for breast cancer if she seeks to improve her chances of overcoming the disease by paying privately for an additional drug.
Mrs Mills, 58, wants to top up her existing treatment with the drug Avastin, and has offered to pay the £4,000-a-month bill herself.
But NHS chiefs have told her that if she does, she will be classed as a private patient and will have to pay the entire £15,000-a-month bill for the drugs and care which are currently provided without charge by South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust.
Mr Johnson said: "You cannot in one episode of treatment have someone who is treated on the NHS and then allowed as part of the same episode, as part of the same treatment, to actually pay money for more drugs.
"That way lies the end of the founding principles of the NHS."
"Mr Johnson's decision is wrong, it is ill conceived. It's ok for him, he has the means to pay privately. Why not the patient if she is willing to contribute in part for a treatment she is denied" - Name and address supplied
"I do not believe the goverment is allowed to hand out a death sentence" - Name and addresss supplied
"No, I disagree with the health sectary" - Name and address supplied
"This is ridiculous! If a patient raises money to fund top-up treatment then good for them. The NHS was set up to provide care at the point of need. If it is unwilling or unable to provide that care then selfcare should be allowed and even encouraged" - Lynne Gray, Nurse Clinician, Skelmersdale
"I do not agree, the NHS can not supply the drugs and the nurse has the means to top up her drugs then she should be allowed. Some patients can get some drugs in some areas supplied others can not. A post code lottery exsists that also undermines the principles of the NHS. I would defy any one with a relative who would die if the drugs are not taken to talk about principles, that goes for Mr Milburn, but then he could afford the £15,000 for the treatment privately." - Gail Powell, Bristol