MS sufferer calls for better drugs access

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2014
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.
Laura Bateman
BETTER FUNDING NEEDED: Laura Bateman wants Pharmac to fund better drugs for multiple sclerosis sufferers, including herself.

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The wife of Hurricanes midfielder Tim Bateman has pleaded for Pharmac funding of better multiple sclerosis drugs after the family were forced to shift to Japan to seek treatment for her.

Laura Bateman was diagnosed with the neurological disease last year and, after a tough few months, the couple and young daughters Shyla and Mylie decided to make the move to access treatment not available in New Zealand.

"I'd love to see a time in the near future where the best possible drugs become available right from the moment of diagnosis, not months of waiting for a certain threshold of deterioration to be met," she said.

The Batemans' plight has renewed the Multiple Sclerosis Society's call for drug-funding agency Pharmac to push through approval for superior drugs used overseas.

In Australia, the United States and Canada, drugs were prescribed at the first diagnosis, but in New Zealand signs of disability had to be shown before a drug such as beta-interferon was prescribed, MS Society committee member Neil Woodhams said.

Two forms of beta-interferon and another drug are funded by Pharmac for MS patients after a neurological assessment.

Overseas, a number of drugs were better than interferon, principally the much more potent - and expensive - natalizumab (brand name Tysabri), Woodhams said.

Pharmac is reviewing natalizumab alongside another drug, fingolimod (brand name Gilenya), under the recommendation of the agency's primary advisory committee, which considers the approval of both drugs a medium priority - but Woodhams said the treatments needed to be approved quicker.

"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," he 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."

Laura Bateman has been in a stable condition since Christmas and, while she appreciated funding difficulties, she struggled "with the fact other countries are so much further advanced in both the types of treatment available and their accessibility".

Wellington Hospital neurology clinical leader David Abernethy said most of the country's 40 neurologists were unhappy that MS sufferers had to become disabled and suffer repeated, crippling relapses before they were eligible for treatment.

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The disability threshold needed to be dropped, and the model adopted of treatment from first diagnosis.

"It's the crunch between health economics and what doctors consider the appropriate care for individual patients," he said.

Pharmac director of operations Sarah Fitt said access to MS treatments was limited compared with that in countries not constrained by a pharmaceutical budget.

In the current financial year, the agency had $795m to spend with drug companies and "had to make choices about how best to use limited funding".

- The Dominion Post

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