Sun 20 Oct 2002
SCOTTISH multiple sclerosis patients are still being denied the only medicine that can help them, despite a government pledge to give the treatment to everyone suffering from the condition.
The government scheme to make the drug Beta Interferon available to all MS patients started in May. But six months later sufferers continue to be denied the only medicine that can ease the painful symptoms of the debilitating condition.
Three of Scotlandís 15 health boards - Lothian, Fife and Forth Valley - have not even started prescribing the drug under the government scheme.
Lothian, one of the countryís largest health boards, said it would not be offering the drug until next month at the earliest. Fife Health Board could not even give an estimated start date for treatment and Forth Valley said it was phasing in the drug.
Mark Hazelwood, of the MS Society Scotland, said: "We are monitoring the situation very closely. If boards do not act quickly they will have no chance of meeting the governmentís instructions."
SNP health spokeswoman Shona Robinson called for an inquiry, describing the situation as "totally unacceptable".
She said: "This is a matter the health minister must look into urgently.
"If this does not happen then patients will again be disadvantaged depending on where they live."
MS is an incurable disease that attacks the central nervous system causing severe disability. Scotland has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world with 10,500 sufferers. Beta Interferon can offer patients relief from many of the diseaseís symptoms.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for Lothian health board said: "The resources required have been identified for this and, once formally approved, Beta Interferon will be prescribed."
Last night Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm said health department representatives were holding regular meetings with professional and patient groups to assess the progress of the scheme.
He added: "Progress is being made."
© 2002 scotsman.com