More MS news articles for Aug 2001

MS drug 'ruled out'

Monday, 6 August, 2001, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK

Leaked proposals suggesting that a multiple sclerosis drug should not be widely available on the NHS have provoked outrage.

Beta interferon has been at the heart of the row over the "rationing" of treatments on the NHS - patients in some areas can get it, while others cannot.

Studies suggest that it could slow the progression of the disabling disease and improve quality of life - for between £7,000 and £10,000 a year per patient.

The goverment's National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has spent more than two years assessing the drug - and it now looks likely to recommend that only those patients already receiving it will be allowed to continue.

This would be the second time that NICE has rejected the drug, and it means an estimated 8,000 people a year will miss out.

The final decision will not be made public until September.


Peter Cardy, the chief executive of the MS Society, said: "If the leaked information is correct, we are dismayed but not entirely surprised.

"We shall continue to press for the verdict to be reversed."

He added: "Surely it is time for Secretary of State Alan Milburn to step in to resolve a situation which has made a shameful mockery of the government's pledge to end the lottery of care?"

According to the society, only between 2% and 3% of MS patients in this country receive the drug, compared to an average of 12% to 15% in other EU countries.

The drug is only suitable for a small proportion of MS patients with a particular form of the disease, and can have severe side-effects.

Some doctors are convinced that this, combined with its price tag, mean that money spent on beta interferon would be better employed elsewhere in MS care.

Paul Burstow MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for older people said: "This decision is politically motivated rationing dressed up as a clinical evaluation.

"Beta interferon is being prescribed to MS patients throughout Europe, yet it seems it is too expensive for the NHS.

"This leak of NICE's preliminary decision is part of a cynical exercise to deflect attention away from NHS rationing."

Beta interferon has proved the biggest headache for NICE, formed in 1999 to combat so-called "postcode prescribing".

The body has come under fire from campaigners for the amount of time it has taken to develop and drive through its guidance.