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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 15:35 GMT
Petition seeks action on MS drug
John McAllion
John McAllion receives the petition from campaigners
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) have handed a petition to MSPs calling for the drug beta interferon to be made freely available on the National Health Service.

More than 30,000 signatures were presented to Labour MSP John McAllion at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

The petition calls on the Scottish Executive to make the drug, which slows down the debilitating condition, freely available all over the country.

At present beta interferon is subject to 'postcode prescribing' - it is available in Ayrshire and Grampian but not Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Beta interferon
Beta interferon slows the onset of MS
Campaigners, who say this unfairly discriminates against sufferers, want to see a uniform system in place throughout Scotland.

MS Society Scotland director Mark Hazelwood said that time was running out for MS sufferers and called on new Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm to act.

He said: "They have been promised big improvements in services, but nothing yet has happened.

"Every delay in making beta interferon more widely available means some people will never be able to benefit from it."

Mr Hazelwood said he believed the drug was a life-transforming medicine which could slow down the progress of MS.

Debilitating disease

He added: "This huge petition has been gathered in record time, mainly by people with MS.

"Our new health minister has in the past said very helpful things about the MS Society's work. He is now in a position to act on his words."

The signatures collected were handed over to Mr McAllion, the public petitions committee convener, who will now formally take it before MSPs.

MS petition
More than 30,000 people signed the petition
To date, the Scottish Executive has not agreed to make beta interferon available in all postcode areas free of charge.

A report commissioned by ministers estimated that it would cost 7m to make the drug widely available to Scotland's 10,400 MS sufferers.

Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system.

Initially it causes loss of balance, reduced vision and bouts of localised paralysis. Eventually, patients may become totally paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

There are several kinds of multiple sclerosis.

Relapsing-remitting MS patients initially experience one or more bouts of illness, followed by complete or partial recovery. Patients are clinically stable between relapses.

Progressive MS patients become gradually more disabled.

Secondary-progressive MS patients start out with the relapsing-remitting form of the disease, but then experience gradual progression of disability.

BBC Scotland's Alan Mackay
"10,000 people in Scotland have multiple sclerosis"
See also:

07 Aug 01 | Health
Concern as MS drug 'rationed'
30 Nov 98 | Medical notes
Multiple sclerosis
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