More than 1,000 patients are expected to attend
Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 12:19 GMT
More than a thousand multiple sclerosis sufferers are expected to lobby their MPs at Parliament on Wednesday to demand access to the best treatments.
The biggest mass protest involving MS patients in the UK aims to expose the failure of the NHS to give them both the drugs and other therapies they need.
Their main concern is the future of the controversial drug beta-interferon, which has been proven to help some MS patients.
This is available in some parts of the country, but not in others - and MS charities fear further restrictions.
But many sufferers say that they also struggle to receive specialist nursing care, physiotherapy, pain control treatment and respite care.
Peter Cardy, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: "This will be the first mass lobby of Parliament ever staged by people with MS.
"The large number coming reflects anger and frustration across the country at inadequate levels of healthcare.
"People with MS wonder if the government actually thinks they are worth treating."
Multiple Sclerosis is a progressively disabling condition in which the delicate nerves in patients' spinal cords are left unprotected, and become damaged.
Beta-interferon is the only drug which has been shown to slow the progression of the illness in certain types of patient.
Those taking the drug still become more disabled, but the rate of decline is less.
However, some health authorities refuse to fund it because they believe it is not effective enough to justify a price tag of many thousands of pounds a year per patient.
A new government advisory body, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, is currently examining the arguments for and against beta-interferon, and will either recommend it is funded nationwide, or not at all.
Its role is to balance clinical effectiveness against cost - but it has pledged to take into account all the wider economic costs and savings involved in treating MS patients.
For example, if treating an MS patient with the drug stopped him or
her becoming wheelchair-bound for an extra year, then the extra cost of
care - and any loss of productivity to the economy would be measured.