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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 07:23 GMT
Patients appeal for arthritis drugs
The drugs helps people with severe rheumatoid arthritis
The drugs helps people with severe rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in Northern Ireland have said they are being short-changed because drugs widely available elsewhere in the UK are being rationed.

Both patients and doctors are stepping up their campaign for funding for the use of drugs in Northern Ireland that are being offered to other NHS patients.

New drugs became available last March to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers after the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) approved the use of Enbrel and Remicade for NHS patients in England and Wales, for whom conventional treatments had failed.

But the NICE rulings do not automatically apply to Northern Ireland.


It is very hard to understand why people with rheumatoid arthritis in other countries can have the opportunity of having this treatment and people in Northern Ireland should not have the same level of care

Andrea Beckett
Arthritis sufferer
And the then Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brun indicated there was not enough funding to make the drugs freely available in the province.

The treatments cost about 10,000 per patient per year.

In Northern Ireland, about 200 people are waiting to be prescribed the drugs.

One young woman on the waiting list, Andrea Beckett, said it was unfair that she and other sufferers were being denied drugs which could dramatically change their lives.

She said: "My joints are constantly throbbing, and when I get up to do activities like climbing the stairs my knees are in excruciating pain.

"The drugs are widely used in America and Europe and the UK and in the south of Ireland too.

"They are used to a certain extent in Northern Ireland, but it is very limited.

"We can't get them because of funding issues.

"It is very hard to understand why people with rheumatoid arthritis in other countries can have the opportunity of having this treatment, with dramatic effects on their lives, and people in Northern Ireland should not have the same level of care."

'Broadly in line'

Currently, about 1m has been allocated to pay for the prescribing of the drugs in Northern Ireland.

A further 2m would be needed to address the existing waiting list.

The Department of Health has said it is working with the health hoards and doctors to promote a cautious approach to the introduction of the new drugs within the resources available.

The Department said that the approach to prescribing the drugs in Northern Ireland was "broadly in line" with NICE recommendations.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Andrea Beckett, patient:
"I find it extremely frustrating"
BBC NI's health correspondent Dot Kirby:
"The number on the waiting list for these drugs is growing"
See also:

09 Apr 02 | N Ireland
27 Apr 02 | N Ireland
26 Oct 02 | Health
23 Nov 01 | Health
03 Jul 00 | Health
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