All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for June 2003

Health bosses make U-turn on MS drug

June, 2003
John McCann
Evening Times

Health bosses in Glasgow have been forced into a U-turn over their decision to deny multiple sclerosis patients vital drugs.

The Evening Times revealed how more than 70 people who suffer from the incurable illness were told they would not get "wonder drug" beta interferon due to cash shortages.

But after a furious reaction from patients and a personal visit from Scotland's top NHS official, the health board has decided it will now assess patients for the drug and give it to those who would benefit.

Today campaigners welcomed the decision which will mean cuts of £600,000 will have to be made to other health projects.

Mark Hazelwood, director of the MS Society Scotland said: "This is fantastic news.

"It is welcome that people with MS in Glasgow will finally get the treatment to which they are entitled."

Last week, NHS Greater Glasgow said that it could not afford to expand a treatment scheme for the drug after it was forced to make £7million in cuts following a cut in its grant from the Scottish Executive.

But it emerged this decision defied an order from Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm last year who told health boards to assess and treat every patient who might benefit.

A health board spokeswoman today confirmed patients would now be treated.

Not every patient can benefit from the drug, as it depends on the stage and severity of their illness and on how their body responds to the treatment.

But patients who were left out of the scheme said they deserved the chance of a normal life which would be lost if their condition worsened while they waited.

MS sufferer Ken Wilson, from the west end of Glasgow, had condemned the decision to freeze the number of patients receiving the drug.

The 39-year-old dad had waited for more than a year for the drug only to be told that he would not get it.

Today he said: "This is excellent news. I'm absolutely delighted.

"This is just the first hurdle for me and people like me who still have to be assessed. But I am getting the chance to find out if I have a shot at this treatment and that is what I wanted.

"Now it's up to the health board to get on with it."

The decision to back down followed a meeting between health board officials and NHS chief executive Trevor Jones on Wednesday.

A Scottish Executive health department spokesman said: "Trevor Jones and his team met with the NHS Greater Glasgow Management Team on Wednesday and the provision of beta interferon was one of the issues discussed.

"The outcome of that discussion is that Glasgow will continue to assess patients and to prescribe them beta interferon where that is the clinical judgement.

"We understand that assessments will restart in July."

The health board said it had increased the number of people receiving the drug from nine to 75 over the past year and said another 71 patients were waiting to be assessed for treatment.

Officials say they will have to find the money for the treatment by delaying other new projects as no more money is available from the Executive.

The health board spokeswoman said: "Funding the cost of treating those who are assessed as suitable for beneficial treatment will have to be met from our existing budget.

"We will now re-examine our programme of planned service improvements for this financial year and identify ways of recouping around £600,000 by delaying the start of some projects by some months but not into next year."

Copyright © 2003 Newsquest (Herald & Times) Limited