Thursday 22 February 2001
By Maurice Weaver
A HOSPITAL consultant whose wife has multiple sclerosis is importing the drug Beta Interferon from Australia because he says it costs less than half as much there as it does in Britain.
Dr Andrew Dyson, 43, says the same drug, which is severely rationed on cost grounds by the National Health Service, is a third cheaper in Spain and Holland and 50 per cent cheaper in France. His wife, Mary, also 43, has acute multiple sclerosis but has not been able to obtain any supplies of the drug from her local health authority in Nottinghamshire.
Dr Dyson, a consultant anaesthetist at the King's Mill Centre in Sutton in Ashfield, Notts, said he was quoted £13,800 for a year's supply of the drug in this country, which was more than he could afford. He began trawling the international market and was shocked to find enormous price disparities.
Other European countries were also far more ready to make funds available for the drug, he said. He is now importing it from Australia for £6,000 a year and the couple, who have two children, have just taken delivery of their first consignment, packed in a refrigerated container.
Dr Dyson is angry at the refusal of the NHS to make more money available for Beta Interferon. He said: "People are not being given a fair chance to live a decent life because the NHS says it cannot afford these drugs."
A spokesman for Schering Health Care, the British distribution arm of a German pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug under the name Betaferon, said it cost the NHS £9,300 for a year's supply. The spokesman attributed some international price differentials to the high value of the pound.
The cost in Britain also reflected the British Government's requirement that the company undertake specific clinical studies and provide a nursing programme to compensate for a national shortage of neurologists. The spokesman added: "It is impossible to make direct comparisons of prices between different countries because there are so many variable factors."
The North Nottinghamshire Health Authority said funding for Beta Interferon was available to cover four cases per 100,000 people within its area. The spokesman added: "The National Institute of Clinical Excellence have extended their timeline for an appraisal of Beta Interferon and we are awaiting guidance from them with regard to the effectiveness of this drug on this and other types of multiple sclerosis."