The shutdown could prevent kids with cancer from getting treatment

October 1, 2013

As long as the government is shut down, the National Institutes of Health will turn away roughly 200 patients each week from its clinical research center, including children with cancer.


No longer open for new business. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

That's according to Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. He laid out the situation for the Wall Street Journal:

At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.

Here's some broader context: Individuals typically enroll in trials at the NIH Clinical Center "only when standard medical treatments have failed, and other treatment options are not available. As a result, they have no other alternatives." It's a place where patients undergo experimental therapies and researchers study rare diseases. The center typically sees 10,000 new patients each year.

The Clinical Center won't simply close its doors during the shutdown. It will still keep 2,564 staff on hand for patient care and maintain about 90 percent of its normal load, according to an agency memo. Existing patients will still get treated as usual.

But the rules of the shutdown mean that the Clinical Center "would not be accepting new patients or initiating new clinical protocols during a hiatus," the memo said.

So, as a result of the budget impasse, there will be a certain number of patients who have exhausted all their options, were hoping to undergo treatment at the NIH Clinical Center, and won't get admitted — at least until the shutdown is resolved.

(Hat tip: Jordan Weissmann)

Further reading: 

-- The nine most painful consequences of a government shutdown.

-- Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work.

-- Here's an earlier look at how sequestration budget cuts have been paring back the NIH's research programs.

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Brian Fung · October 1, 2013