NHS 'cruelly targeting' MS sufferers in cuts, says councillor
A Northern Ireland politician with multiple sclerosis has accused the health service of "cruelly targeting" MS sufferers in a bid to slash costs.
Victor Warrington was speaking after the revelation that new MS patients here will not be offered access to essential drugs until at least next March.
Mr Warrington, a UUP councillor from Fermanagh, is one of the approximate 4,500 people in Northern Ireland living with MS.
He said: "MS can be a terrible condition for anyone affected by it, but if caught and treated on time it can be very well managed.
"I was fortunate as it was detected early, but my diagnosis has given me a direct insight of just how chaotic and frankly dangerous local MS services are."
Last month it was revealed that the five health trusts here need to claw back £70m.
The Belfast Trust holds responsibility for dispensing Disease Modifying Therapies (DMTs) used to treat MS for the whole of Northern Ireland. One of the proposals contained in the Trust's consultation paper on the savings plan is to defer dispensing a number of high-costing drug treatments for five to six months.
It means that newly-diagnosed MS patients may not receive drug treatment until spring next year.
Mr Warrington said he was "dumbfounded" by the news, branding the proposal an "absolute outrage".
He added: "Balancing books is being placed ahead of safe hospital services. It is abhorrent to me that someone, somewhere, thought withholding crucial drugs from patients who desperately need them was an acceptable choice."
The MS Society in Northern Ireland warned the cuts would have a direct and highly detrimental impact on sufferers.
In a position paper, the charity said: "This proposal is most concerning and sets a dangerous precedent.
"The proposal has the potential to impact provision of these drugs across Northern Ireland.
"A move which would delay treatment with specific 'high cost drugs' for any condition is unacceptable.
"Restricting the options open to consultants and patients sets a very alarming precedent, with legal and moral questions to be answered."
A spokesperson added: "Cuts to care provision mean people with MS can face uncertainty and disruption at a time when they are feeling vulnerable."
The Belfast Trust had not responded to requests for comment last night.