Patients claim a “postcode lottery” for drug

MULTIPLE Sclerosis sufferers in Suffolk have hit out at what they claim is a postcode-lottery in accessibility to a new cannabis-based drug which could relieve their symptoms.

Specialist MS nurses have told patients that they were informed the breakthrough pain killer, Sativex, has been “red-listed” and cannot be prescribed by GPs or neurologists.

NHS Suffolk claim GPs cannot prescribe Sativex, to MS sufferers – but it can be accessed with the approval of a patient’s neurologist.

However, it is believed the drug is more easily available in other parts of the country, including the Midlands and Warwickshire.

Last night, patients with MS – a disabling neurological condition – claimed the difficulty in accessing the drug in Suffolk may be due to the cost of it – which is �11 per patient per day.

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They say they have been left confused by the situation after being told by their nurses that it wasn’t available in this county.

Shaun Brabrook, 43, from the Howard estate in Bury St Edmunds, was diagnosed with MS in 2005. He used to smoke cannabis to relieve the symptoms at night and ensure he could sleep. However since he stopped smoking, the pain has been hard to cope with.

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He said: “I get a lot of spasms, particularly in my legs. I am taking some painkillers but I am looking for something that relaxes muscles and that is what Sativex does. I used to smoke cannabis but why should I go down the illegal route when this new drug is available?”

The father of three said he was “gutted” and “annoyed” that he couldn’t get hold of the new drug.

He said: “There should not be a postcode lottery – if you need the drug, it shouldn’t matter where you are.”

Dr Jayne Spink, director of policy and research at the MS Society, said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by enquiries from people across England who are struggling to access the treatment; it’s clear it’s subject to a postcode lottery.

“The reality is that people with MS living in Suffolk face a complicated and time consuming process to get Sativex, where as people in other parts of England are using and benefiting from the drug now.”

It is estimated there are around 1,000 people with MS living in Suffolk.

NHS Suffolk said the panel decided it could be available for patients via specialists in November 2009, however it was only formally licensed in June this year by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

Richard Hodgson, NHS Suffolk senior pharmacist said: “New drugs are considered for use in NHS Suffolk by a panel of GPs and pharmacists. They study the clinical evidence for the drugs and decide whether using them would be a good use of taxpayers’ money in improving the health and quality of life of the people of Suffolk. “Sativex has been considered by this panel which decided that it would be available for patients for whom their specialist thought it appropriate. These patients will be able to obtain their medicine from the hospital.”


Case study:

Diana Hunt, a mother of two from Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds, was diagnosed with the condition in 1996. She was told by her neurologist last year that the drug could not be prescribed and informed this week by her MS nurse that it still not available under this primary care trust.

She said: “I am in a lot of pain. Sometimes my spasticity brings me to tears. My muscles tense up and it is like cramp. I have tried a lot of painkillers and nothing seems to work. I do think Sativex might help but I haven’t tried it. I was told by my neurologist that the PCT would not fund it.”

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