22 April 2001
THE most powerful currency in the world today is not the euro or the yen, or even the mighty dollar. Celebrity rules instead. Whether it be the latest intrigue surrounding Hollywood stars or the newest pop sensation, what moves minds and markets alike is the power of fame.
With that power comes responsibility. The risks inherent in a culture nourished on the foibles of the rich and famous are obvious. Which makes it all the more refreshing that JK Rowling should, in today’s Scotland on Sunday, offer a powerful reminder that celebrity can be a force for good as well as for mindless titillation.
Rowling has used the fame the Harry Potter books have brought her as a platform from which to highlight the abysmal - there is no other word for it - provision of care for sufferers of multiple sclerosis in Scotland.
Health spending in the NHS is not, and never can be, sufficiently elastic to cater fully for every ailment, disease and illness. Nonetheless Rowling, who is patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Scotland and whose mother died aged 45 after suffering from the condition, is right to highlight the absence of proper provision for sufferers in Scotland.
In no other country does MS afflict as high a proportion of the population as in Scotland. This is the MS capital of the world, 10,400 Scots suffer the effects of this frightening and debilitating condition. Yet treatment that could ease their suffering is less readily available here than anywhere else in Europe.
There are, for example, just eight specialist MS nurses in Scotland. A pitifully inadequate number. Physiotherapists who can do much to ease the pain of MS sufferers are equally sparse . New drugs, such as Beta interferon can benefit 20% of MS sufferers yet only 10% of those who might gain from the treatment in Scotland are prescribed the drug. In Tayside just eight patients have access to the latest treatment. A mere £7m a year would spread the benefits of Beta interferon to all those who need the drug.
More can be done in Scotland . A survey commissioned for MS Awareness Week found just 16% of sufferers felt they had received the proper level of care and support from the NHS at the time they were diagnosed with the condition. That is a damning indictment of a health service that is supposed to focus on the needs of patients.
There is a suspicion among MS campaigners that the disease’s complexity and unpredictability have allowed health service managers and politicians alike to avoid treating the problem with the seriousness it merits. That attitude needs to change. The Scottish Executive should see JK Rowling’s intervention in the debate as a challenge to rise to, rather than a problem to shirk.