30 May 2003
By Nigel Gould
The Belfast Telegraph
Ulster patients with the crippling multiple sclerosis condition are still being denied new 'wonder drugs' they expected to be given last year.
And one Cookstown woman, Orla McCusker, told how she had been on the waiting list for beta interferon since March 2002.
"At the time I was told it could be October or November before I would have the treatment and that I was near to the top of the waiting list," she said.
"But I am still waiting and have not been given a date when the drug will be available."
Mrs McCusker, a young mother-of-three, is one of up to 70 patients across the province on a waiting list for months for the treatment.
Rising waiting lists were blamed on cash and staffing problems.
"I desperately want to get on this drug," she said. "All being well this should transform my condition by slowing the illness down."
Health Minister Des Browne, in reply to a written House of Commons question from DUP MP Iris Robinson, confirmed patients were still waiting for the drug.
He said: "No additional patients have commenced treatment with these specialist medicines since January 1, 2003, because recruitment of the necessary specialist staff has not yet been completed.
"Interviews have now taken place for extra nursing staff, who are expected to be in post no later than June 2003 and regional joint medical/nursing clinics are in the process of being set up."
Last year, each of the province's four health boards were given extra cash to treat MS patients who needed the drug.
Now Mrs Robinson wants patients to be treated as soon as possible.
She said: "New drugs including beta interferon and glatiramer acetate can prevent relapses in multiple sclerosis and limit otherwise progressive deterioration.
"MS affects the sheath enclosing the spinal cord and interrupts the transfer of impulses from the brain to muscles.
"Last year local patients were advised their treatment was being delayed by staffing limitations.
"If patients do not receive new medications soon the potential to benefit will be lost because their disease will have progressed too far.
"Multiple sclerosis is the most common disabling neurological condition in young adults, with 85,000 sufferers in the UK.
"Surely it is not too much to expect that Northern Ireland sufferers of the disease are able to access the same treatments as those on the mainland?"
Figures revealed by the Belfast Telegraph last year showed that nearly
2,000 people had been waiting for at least three months for a first outpatient
appointment with a consultant neurologist.
Copyright © 2003, The Belfast Telegraph