17 June 2001
Imagine a situation in which Scots were more likely than anyone else to suffer from a terrifyingly unpredictable condition that attacks the central nervous system causing excruciating pain, disability and, in some cases, death. Then imagine a situation in which those same Scots were less likely to receive suitable treatment than their fellow sufferers in any other country and you have the makings of a scandal.
Yet that is the predicament the 10,400 Scots afflicted by multiple sclerosis find themselves in. This newspaper, backed by JK Rowling, patron of the MS Society, launched a campaign two months ago highlighting the abysmal provision of care in this, the MS capital of the world.
Scottish patients are less likely to be prescribed drugs such as Beta interferon that could ease their pain, nor is there proper provision of palliative care such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy. What treatment there is available is spread unevenly across the country: just nine MS patients in Glasgow have been prescribed Beta interferon, for instance, despite the Greater Glasgow Primary Care Trust having a £4m surplus from its prescription drugs budget last year.
The cost of prescribing Beta interferon to the 20% of patients who would benefit from it is £7m. That is a trifling sum. The health minister, Susan Deacon, has criticised regional Health Boards for the inadequacies of care across the country and the Scottish parliamentís health department is promising to make the status of specialist MS nurses a priority, but more needs to be done and the minister must recognise that she needs to take a proactive approach if MS sufferers are to receive the treatment they deserve.
The incurable nature of MS means the management of the disease once diagnosed is of the utmost importance. It is scarcely credible that there is no National Standard of Care for MS, despite the existence of equivalent guidelines for heart disease, cancer care and mental illness. If the health service is to be, in Deaconís words, "patient-centred" this is an omission that requires immediate rectifying.
Much more research is needed before the causes of MS are fully understood. Until that happens a cure cannot be found; in the meantime the minister and health professionals alike should be ashamed of the abysmally inadequate treatment available to MS sufferers.