US shutdown could stop care for children with cancer: Report

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States government shutdown could block hundreds of cancer patients, including children, from entering last-ditch clinical trials for treatment, US media reported on Wednesday.

About three-quarters of the staff at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which operates the largest research hospital in the world, have been placed on unpaid leave indefinitely.

While the NIH Clinical Centre is continuing to treat patients, who seek care there after all other options are exhausted, it is operating at "roughly 90 per cent of normal patient load", said an agency memo.

"NIH would not admit new patients (unless deemed medically necessary by the NIH Director), or initiate new protocols," during a funding hiatus, the memo said.

NIH Director Francis Collins said that means about 200 patients will be turned away from treatment at the Clinical Centre each week, including about 30 children, some of whom have cancer, according to the Wall Street Journal.

ABC news also quoted an NIH spokesman as saying the shutdown would likely affect about 30 children, among whom about 10 have cancer, each week the shutdown persists.

The report added that there are some 1,400 clinical trials ongoing at the NIH centre, and that four new ones ready to start next week will have to be postponed until the government resumes work.

The NIH has furloughed 14,700 employees, but more than 2,500 staff are staying on to manage patient care, said the agency memo.

The Clinical Centre is a place where patients are admitted "only when standard medical treatments have failed, and other treatment options are not available. As a result, they have no other alternatives", the memo said.

Some 800,000 federal workers across the US capital region and beyond have been told to stay home from work without pay, in the first US government shutdown in 17 years.

The shutdown came after Democrats refused to give in to Republican lawmakers' demands for a rollback of President Barack Obama's health-care reform law, which Congress passed in 2010 and was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court.