By Sarah Schaefer, Political Reporter
22 June 2000
Tony Blair promised yesterday that no multiple sclerosis sufferers now receiving the beta interferon drug would be affected by plans to stop it being available on the NHS.
Mr Blair made his remarks after being challenged during question time by William Hague over the report by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice).
The preliminary ruling has concluded that the drug has only marginal benefits for some MS patients and that the money would be better spent on other forms of treatment, such as physiotherapy and rehabilitation services. But the institute, which advises the NHS on drug use, has made clear that it has yet to make a final decision on how beta interferon should be prescribed.
The Leader of the Opposition said: "Will you now acknowledge that, after three years of a Labour Government, there is more rationing in the health service than ever before?"
The Prime Minister replied: "It is important to emphasise that nobody who gets it now will be affected by this report.
"It is important, however, that we end postcode prescribing in the NHS. It was your Government and you that introduced it." Mr Hague said: "With this drug in use all over Europe, isn't it vital that whatever happens there is continued freedom to prescribe in particular cases?"
Mr Blair said: "Nobody who gets it now is going to be denied it. You say it is available to all MS sufferers elsewhere in Europe. In fact, in France, Germany and Italy only 12 per cent of MS sufferers get it."
Mr Hague said: "Instead of trying to attack other parties on this issue, why don't you ... look seriously at our proposal for an exceptional medicines fund, which reimburses GPs directly for expensive drugs and avoids arbitrary rationing?"
Mr Blair said: "It's all very well to put your proposal. But there is one flaw with it. Under your proposals for private medical insurance, you are going to take £1bn out of the health service. That will no longer be there to be used for beds, nurses, doctors or drugs.
"That is why our proposals are rather better."