12:00 - 26 June 2003
The Sentinel, Staffordshire
Claire Evans is one of the few Multiple Sclerosis sufferers in the Potteries to be put on beta interferon on the NHS in the past year - but she says she is delighted many others will now follow. The 22-year old from Newchapel and her loved-ones touched a nerve among the public two years ago when they started raising the £750 monthly cost of the injections to pay for them privately. For 15 months, they rose to the challenge and people rallied round.
But just as the effort was becoming harder to sustain, she had a call out of the blue to say the health authorities had agreed to fund the drug.
That put her in an elite band of around 80 patients at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire to have state funding for the treatment - but now hundreds will follow under a multi-million package.
She said: "The relief was incredible. I was diagnosed with MS three years ago, but I was going steadily downhill before I started on the drug. I was having constant relapses and could hardly go out as my legs were so bad. I had to leave one job because of it.
"Within two weeks of having the jabs, I was transformed and now I am perfectly healthy.
"My current bosses have been great about it, but it was always a fear of mine that if the money dried up I would go back to how I was. If I had not had the drug I may have been in a wheelchair now and be past the stage of benefiting from beta interferon.
"That is the cruellest part - while people are on waiting lists, they go past the window where they can have the drug. That is why I am thrilled so many more patients will now be getting what I can only describe as a miracle drug."
Melanie Plumpton, aged 31, of Fenton, was housebound because of her constant relapses before she went onto beta interferon. She managed to secure the drug free of charge five years ago, as it was part of a clinical trial being run from the Hartshill hospital.
She immediately improved, but has since faced the ever-present fear that the drug would be withdrawn again as the whole issue was taken over by national politicians and medical watchdogs.
Melanie said: "It was a real struggle bringing up daughter Megan - now eight - before I went on the drug. I was in so much pain.
"Now I am so much better, but I feel sorry for those at the hospital who so far have been denied the drug. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty I am having it and they are not. This news will be such a relief to all those people."
Eric Budworth, chairman of the North Staffordshire branch of the MS Society, said: "This is something we have been fighting for years and all that work has paid off.
"The Government did a U-turn and allowed the drug to be prescribed,
but that was not much good until now, when the money and infrastructure
is being put in place to make it happen."
Copyright © 2003, Northcliffe Electronic Publishing Ltd