Cuts threatening MS patient medication a step too far, warns Belfast doctor
A Belfast doctor has said he is tired of letting down multiple sclerosis patients as imminent health cutbacks threaten to deny sufferers vital medication.
Gavin McDonnell, a consultant neurologist at the Belfast Trust, said it was "a step too far".
More than 5,000 people across the UK have signed a petition urging Northern Ireland's health chief to abandon the controversial plans that will hit MS patients.
Five trusts here are planning to make savings of £70m 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 will today respond to the public consultation process, expressing alarm at the proposals and branding them ethically wrong and financially illogical.
The charity will also deliver 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.
Dr McDonnell said: "We know that early treatment in MS is crucial.
"If people with MS receive ineffective treatment - or, worse still, none at all - this can cause irreversible damage and disability, and even reduce life expectancy.
"This is an extremely serious proposal with potentially life altering consequences for those it affects - people who need our support.
"Waiting times in Northern Ireland are already unacceptably long.
"People with MS wait to see consultant neurologists, wait for MS specialists, wait for diagnostic and monitoring tests, wait for therapists and, in many cases, already wait for treatment.
"I have patients who should have been seen in a year, but it's been more like three or four.
"Should these plans go ahead, they will mean even more delays to an already unacceptably long process. Patients are tired of waiting and I am tired of letting them down, and this is a step too far."
Patricia Gordon, director of the MS Society Northern Ireland, added: "This is a terrifying prospect for anyone facing an MS diagnosis.
"You receive what is for many a frightening diagnosis, only to be faced by impossible waiting times - and now could be denied access to effective drugs.
"A dire situation would be amplified 10-fold."
Derek McCambley, from Co Down, who lives with multiple sclerosis, 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.