Pharmac appeal as star quits NZ rugby for wife

MATT STEWART AND TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 12:56 15/05/2014
tim bateman
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ
BEST OPTION OVERSEAS: Tim Bateman is leaving the Hurricanes to go to Japan to seek better treatment for his wife's multiple sclerosis.

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The Multiple Sclerosis Society wants drug funding agency Pharmac to push through approval for a superior treatment drug used overseas.

The call comes after Hurricanes second five-eighth Tim Bateman announced yesterday he and his young family would move to Japan to seek the best possible medical treatment for his wife Laura, who was diagnosed with the neurological disease last year.

After a tough few months the couple decided to move overseas with their two young daughters Shyla and Mylie, to access treatment not available here.

"To cut a long story short, my wife was diagnosed with MS last year and we had to make a decision based on the treatment that was not going to be available here in New Zealand for her," Bateman said after rugby training yesterday.

MS Society national executive committee member Neil Woodhams said that in Australia, the United States and Canada treatment drugs were prescribed at the first diagnosis, but in New Zealand there had to be signs of disability before a treatment drug like beta-interferon was prescribed.

Two forms of beta-interferon, and another drug, were funded by Pharmac for MS patients following a neurological assessment.

Overseas there were a number of drugs that were better than interferon, principally natalizumab (trade name Tysabri), Woodhams said.

Pharmac was reviewing natalizumab alongside another drug, fingolimod (trade name Gilenya, Novartis) under the recommendation of the agency's primary advisory committee who considered the approval of both drugs a medium priority, but Woodhams said they needed to be approved immediately.

"Laura is one of a number of people we're aware of that are in the same situation where they cannot get access to the drug their neurologist would like to prescribe them for funding reasons," Woodhams said.

"We'd like to see Pharmac agree to fund Tysabri and other MS drugs as recommended by their own technical committee as soon as possible."

Bateman will head for a second stint in the Fukuoka region at the end of the Super Rugby season to take up a two-year deal with the Coca Cola West Red Sparks.

He said that when the family were in Japan in 2011 and 2012, they lived about 100 metres from the country's leading MS specialist.

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"They've said to us she will be well looked after," Bateman said.

"They are understanding with the situation and flexible with my time."

Last year had been particularly difficult, but Bateman said his wife's condition had been stable since Christmas.

In a perfect world he would love for the health restrictions to change over the next two years so he could return to play out his career in New Zealand.

- The Dominion Post

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