More than 5,000 people across the UK have signed a petition urging Northern Ireland’s health leaders to abandon controversial plans, in which people with multiple sclerosis (MS) will have vital medication denied to them. The MS Society has raised concerns this could set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the UK.
Five health trusts in Northern Ireland are planning to make savings of £70 million across the health service over the next five months. Proposals include deferring access to Disease Modifying Therapies (DMTs) for new MS patients until the new financial year.
The MS Society has today responded to the public consultation process, expressing alarm at the proposals. The charity has also delivered a petition signed by 5,190 people to the Chief Executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Martin Dillon, calling on him to abandon the plans.
Alasdair Coles, chair of the Association of British Neurologists’ (ABN) MS Group, said: “If these plans go ahead, they could put health professionals in an incredibly difficult position. We’d be prevented from treating many new patients with what we know is the best course of action.
“There is medical consensus and ABN guidelines saying that early treatment is absolutely vital in managing relapsing forms of MS. We know that this can reduce relapses and slow the progression of irreversible disability. Waiting times in Northern Ireland are already unacceptably long so any further delays in treatment would be even more damaging.
“Patients have a right to expect to receive the same care regardless of what part of the financial year they happen to have an appointment with a doctor. Setting this precedent would be a betrayal of the fundamental NHS principle of a service available to all.”
Michelle Mitchell, Chief Executive of the MS Society, said: “We’re deeply concerned about any proposals to deny people access to life-changing drugs that are already considered cost-effective. If these plans are pushed through, this could set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the UK. It’s crucial that everyone living with MS is able to access the right treatment at the right time, no matter where they live.”
“These medicines can offer many people with MS the chance to take more control of the condition and their lives. We recognise that NHS trusts all across the UK are facing significant pressures. But these proposals just don’t make any financial sense and will cause real harm and distress to people with MS.”
Derek McCambley, who is from County Down, Northern Ireland, and lives with MS, said: “Being told I had MS was a really difficult and scary time for me. I was able to start on treatments very quickly. But if I had been told there were medicines available but I couldn’t get them just yet, this would’ve been heart-breaking. These cuts will take away hope from people newly diagnosed with this condition and leave them even more anxious and confused.”
MS affects around 4,500 people in Northern Ireland and more than 100,000 in the UK. Approximately 85% of people in the UK are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, for which a DMT may be appropriate. MS is often painful and exhausting and can cause problems with how people walk, move, see, think and feel. MS is unpredictable and different for everyone.
The MS Society is here for people with MS, through the highs, lows and everything in between. We have a free helpline – 0808 800 8000 and information can be found on our website www.mssociety.org.uk