Royal Free denies allowing Tory MP to influence medical decision

Royal Free, Matthew Pettitt and Oliver Dowden

Chronic pain sufferer Matthew Pettitt (inset, top) had his treatment reinstated following an intervention by his MP Oliver Dowden (inset, bottom). But his doctor has asked why an MP can secure treatment when he can't - Credit: PA / Angela Parry / HM Govt

The Royal Free NHS trust has denied that it allowed an MP to influence medical decisions, despite a claim by a senior doctor.

Consultant neurologist Dr Desmond Kidd wrote to another doctor, saying he had been unable to secure treatment for a patient.

But, he added, when Oliver Dowden MP – then a Conservative minister – intervened, the treatment was approved.

“One final question remains on how the management was able, after being contacted by his MP, to arrange plasma exchange without medical permission and yet I am not able to do so through the correct channels,” wrote Dr Kidd.

The Ham&High was shown the letter by the patient, Matthew Pettitt, who was sent a copy.

Rare Condition

Landscaper Matthew Pettitt, 49, had twice worked on the Chelsea Flower Show. He ran his own company, with a team working under him.

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But in 2012, he noticed that the tips of his fingers kept going numb.

By 2013 the problem has spread through his right arm and leg.

He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune condition called neurosarcoidosis, which causes inflammation and abnormal cell deposits in the nervous system.

Common symptoms include headaches, hallucinations, dizziness and nausea.

Now, Matthew says he falls over a lot and suffers “extreme pain on a daily basis”.

“Within a matter of months I had to stop working,” he said.

“I lost everything. I had to let my business go and sell all my tools and my van just to get by.”

Matthew Pettitt and his wife Angela Parry

Matthew Pettitt and wife Angela in happier times - Credit: Angela Parry


Matthew was referred to the Royal Free by his GP.

In 2018, he started undergoing plasma exchange – a treatment similar to dialysis, where plasma is removed from the blood and replaced.

Every three months he would have three sessions on consecutive days.

It reduced his pain and improved his mobility, he said.

When Covid-19 heaped pressure on the NHS in 2020, the treatment was suspended – which Matthew and his wife Angela accepted.

But as Covid hospitalisations fell, the treatment was never reinstated.

They say Dr Kidd told them he had sought approval to resume the sessions but had been unsuccessful.

So the couple wrote to their local MP, Oliver Dowden.

The MP

“I was concerned to hear about their difficulty accessing appropriate treatment,” Mr Dowden told the Ham&High – so he wrote to the local NHS clinical commissioning group, Herts Valley (HVCCG).

HVCCG said it received Mr Dowden’s message in February and forwarded it to the Royal Free trust.

“Our contracts team raised the issue with the Royal Free, which is the usual process in a situation like this,” a spokesperson said.

“As a result, a renewed series of dates for treatment were agreed for the patient, starting in March.”

Mr Dowden said: “I am pleased that after I made representations to HVCCG on their behalf – this treatment plan was rectified."

Oliver Dowden MP

Oliver Dowden MP said he was pleased that after he made representations to HVCCG, Matthew Pettitt's plasma exchange treatment was reinstated - Credit: HM Govt


But, said Matthew and Angela, their relief was short-lived.

After Matthew’s second session, they were told the third would not be going ahead.

After that, Dr Kidd found himself once again unable to secure approval.

On May 11, he sent a letter to another doctor, explaining his frustration.

“No reason for the refusal was cited,” he wrote, and his last email on the issue had gone unanswered.

Moreover, he added, he did not understand how Oliver Dowden MP could secure treatment for a patient when their own consultant could not.

Matthew Pettitt

Matthew Pettitt, who suffers from neurosarcoidosis, had his plasma exchange treatment stopped twice by the Royal Free NHS trust - Credit: Angela Parry


A spokesperson for the Royal Free London said: “The trust’s neuroimmune modulatory panel must give clinical approval before any patient can receive plasma exchange treatment.

“No treatment is given due to the intervention of an MP.

“A complaint about Mr Pettitt’s care has been received by the trust and we will respond to him in due course.”

It offered no further comment about the concerns raised in Dr Kidd’s letter or the axing of Matthew’s treatment.

Meanwhile, said Mr Dowden, he has again raised concerns.

"It is disappointing to hear that Matthew and Angela are facing fresh problems,” he said.

“I have swiftly made further representations to HVCCG and will be monitoring this closely for my constituents.”

A HVCCG spokesperson said: “We are discussing this with the Royal Free to get the treatment restarted as soon as can be managed."

Dr Kidd was approached for comment.