More MS news articles for March 2000

Life or Death League Table

THIS area-by-area guide to drug provision on the NHS exposes the postcode lottery that determines treatment for serious illness.

The Mirror asked all 107 health authorities in England and Wales whether they handed out eight "super" drugs that combat cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and motor neurone disease.

And the biggest-ever survey of prescription policy showed that the treatment the sick get depends on where they live.

One of the eight drugs is prostacyclin - the lung disease treatment which we showed yesterday morning to be commonly handed out in America, but drastically rationed here. We also focused on taxol (ovarian cancer), taxotere (breast cancer), irinotecan (bowel cancer), temodal (brain cancer), rilutek (motor neurone disease), beta interferon (multiple sclerosis) and aricept (Alzheimer's).

Some areas like Cambridgeshire, Hillingdon in North Thames and Manchester supply all eight. One - East London and City - provides only three.

Those prescribing only four are the London boroughs of Bexley and Greenwich and Croydon, and Lincolnshire.

Oxfordshire and North and East Devon give out five of the eight, whose costs range from pounds 1,000 to pounds 10,000.

Cambridgeshire stressed it did not "routinely" prescribe all eight, but left it to doctors.

In some areas, such as Birmingham, the decision is taken by the consultant and the NHS trust

The watchdog National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which assesses new drugs, is reporting on taxotere, beta interferon and aricept later this year.

Last night one London doctor said of the regional variations: "This is hugely unfair and has to stop."

Vanessa Bourne, chairwoman of the Patients' Association, said: "A locally-sensitive service is one thing, but offering quite differing health services is another - and not acceptable."

Ex-British international swimmer Colin Dale is one MS victim who says he is being refused beta interferon.

Colin, 41, said: "West Sussex Health Authority have denied me the drug.

"MS has given me double vision which has affected my sight and co-ordination. I can't write anymore and I used to be a draughtsman."