December 1, 2003
Charities campaigning for better treatment for multiple sclerosis patients said today new guidelines would help end the “lottery” of care currently on offer to the 63,000 sufferers in England and Wales.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) issued guidance on the management of MS calling for set standards of treatment for all patients, who can suffer pain, movement problems and speech difficulties.
The guideline, published with the National Collaborating Centre for Chronic Conditions (NCC CC), said specialist neurological services should be available to everyone with MS whenever they need them.
They also gave cautious support for the possible benefits for complementary therapies such as fish oil, reflexology and t’ai chi for treating MS.
The guidance states that people with MS should be informed that there is “some evidence” to suggest that these therapies might be of benefit “although there is insufficient evidence to give more firm recommendations”.
Nice also said patients suspected of having MS should be seen quickly by a specialist within a time limit.
There were calls for health organisations to co-operate to make the patient’s service “seamless” from their point of view.
Nice also said that MS sufferers should be “actively involved” in all decisions and actions taken about the management of their condition if they wish to be.
Nice chief executive Andrew Dillon said: “This guideline makes important recommendations for improving the care of people with MS.
“It represents a catalyst for change and will inform a more joined-up approach to service delivery.”
Mike O’Donovan, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: “Tens of thousands of people with multiple sclerosis currently face a lottery of health care.
“Long waits for diagnosis are frequently followed by repeated struggles to access the treatments they need at the time they need them.
“The new guideline is the most far-reaching step ever taken towards better management of one of the most common, complex and unpredictable neurological conditions.”
Christine Jones, chief executive of the MS Trust, said: “The introduction of a benchmark for good practice in the NHS is a positive step forward.
“From now on, local service providers will be monitored and measured against the new standards.
“It’s up to all of us to ensure that the standards of good practice which the guidelines advocate are really met – and where this is not the case, to work with the NHS to achieve them. Now the real work begins.”
The Department of Health today also released figures showing that thousands of MS sufferers were now benefiting from drug therapies as a result of a Government initiative launched last year.
They said the “risk sharing scheme” – a joint venture between the DoH, drug manufacturers and patient bodies – had already seen more than 3,000 enrol since May 2002, with 7,000 in total being treated.
The DoH said an extra £2.8 million had also been earmarked for the development of special MS posts in the next three years.
And 62 prescribing centres for MS were now up and running across the UK.
Health Minister Lord Warner said: “This scheme has gone a long way towards ending the uncertainty that affected thousands of people with MS around their treatment with these therapies.
“Early treatment can make a real difference in delaying the progression of MS and these figures confirm that people with MS are now getting better access to drugs that can postpone the advance of the disease.”
He also welcomed the Nice guidelines, saying it would provide for the
first time “a benchmark for good practice” in the NHS and MS services.
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