September 18, 2002
HUNDREDS of sufferers of multiple sclerosis in Hampshire will receive a controversial but life-enhancing drug on the NHS for the first time.
Health chiefs in Southampton have reached agreement with the Government to provide beta interferon for an estimated 400 people from central southern England.
Until now sufferers of MS, which affects the central nervous system, were denied a drug that can stabilise the illness for which there is no known cure.
One immediate beneficiary is former nurse Anne Sinclair from Winchester who last week received a prescription for the drug through the post. Anne, a nurse for 26 years, was forced to pay GBP 229 a month for her weekly injections. She accused the NHS of betrayal, in a front page story in the Daily Echo last month.
But now the all-important prescription has been sent to her home at Coate Drive, Worthy Down.
She is a mother of two who rose to rank of captain in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps. She said: "I feel such tremendous relief. It means the NHS is going to pay for it.
"I think the article in the Daily Echo must have rattled a few cages. The MP Mark Oaten was going to take it up. But when his researcher rang Southampton General Hospital he was told my prescription was in the post.
"It is a relief to hear it will be more widely available. The struggle has been horrendous. But it is rather late for some. This drug is not a cure but it helps keep people stable and not zooming downhill. For me there have been no bad side-effects and I have been taking it for 20 months."
A spokeswoman for the Southampton General Hospital said it was part of a GBP 50m long-term pilot scheme to evaluate the drug's effectiveness. "This pilot will decide whether beta interferon is as good as people say it is," she said.
Until now only a handful of people who could pay privately received the drug. Anne was only able to have it with financial help from two army charities.
The beta interferon drug has been controversial with some medical experts saying it is too costly and of limited value. Not every MS sufferer is suitable for the drug. About 800 local sufferers will be assessed over the next 18 months and around half will be eligible. Treatment will cost GBP 7,500 a year.
A spokesman for the MS Society said: "This is something we have fought long and hard to see after two years of delay."
An assessment programme to identify multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who may be suitable to enter the national trial of the value of disease modifying drugs will start within the next month. If suitable, their treatment will begin within weeks.
Neurologists at Wessex Neuro-logical Centre at Southampton General Hospital expect to assess some 800 people with relapsing - remitting or secondary progressive MS over the next 18 months.
Around half are expected to meet the clinical criteria for inclusion in the trial, which will monitor patients for up to ten years to assess the effectiveness of Beta Interferon and Glatiramer Acetate as treatments for MS.
Every patient joining the trial will be fully funded by the NHS. Patients who have hitherto been paying privately for Beta Interferon will have their drug costs from February 2002 reimbursed by the NHS.
Prescribing Beta Interferon will cost about GBP 7,500 per year per patient.
Patients and their carers have to be trained to use the drug as it is administered
by injection. MS patients who believe they may qualify for the trial should
talk to their GP.
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