A charity has urged the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to press the NHS to fund potentially life-saving treatment for blood cancer patients who it claims have been abandoned.

The blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan said the health service should fund second stem cell transplants for people with diseases such as leukaemia who relapsed after their first transfusion of cells. About 16 people a year relapse, and the charity says a second transplant provides a cure for one in three cases.

However, NHS England has said a second transplant is too expensive and provides low clinical benefit when compared with other treatments. The decision not to fund a second round is set to be reviewed in May, and the charity wants Hunt to put pressure on NHS England to change its stance.

Anthony Nolan’s chief executive, Henny Braund, said the refusal to fund a second transplant was unacceptable. “The health secretary must take action for people with blood cancer and blood disorders by raising this issue with NHS England,” she said. “We ask that Mr Hunt meets patients and families affected and take this issue up on their behalf with decision-makers at NHS England. Families are losing loved ones because the NHS is under pressure to make savings.”

In a poll of 1,700 people carried out by Populus on behalf of the charity, 66% of respondents said patients who relapsed after their first treatment should be given a second round, and almost half said it was unacceptable for friends or family to have to foot the bill. Almost six in 10 said the government was not doing a good enough job of making sure the NHS had the money to fund the treatments people needed.

Lisa Hepburn, whose husband Gavin died last year after two attempts to get an individual request for a second stem cell treatment were rejected, said: “There’s no explanation from the NHS; nothing from the heart. I feel for people who are in the situation of having to raise the money themselves. I can’t believe the government can put a price on a person’s life – that’s what they are doing.”

Last week a group of charities wrote to Theresa May urging her to stop the NHS rationing treatment for people with serious illnesses and to find more money for care in next month’s budget.

NHS England had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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