Why don’t you support private prescribing and HSCT abroad?
The social media response to yesterday’s Barts-MS Hangout on HSCT has been rather mixed. A lot of commentators are being critical of us for creating too many hurdles regarding the access to HSCT and that we shouldn’t stop our patients going abroad for treatment. From my perspective, going abroad or to private units in the UK for HSCT is private healthcare at its worst. The countries who offer private HSCT, on a fee-for-service basis, are some of the countries with the largest health inequities in the world. These private HSCT units are in it for the money and hence are not that selective in whom they will treat. Can you pay? If you say yes, then you can be treated next week, but only after you put down a large deposit.
The founding principles of the NHS and other socialist healthcare systems are that healthcare is a basic human right, therefore it should be free at the point of access and it must be equitable. Private HSCT, private prescribing and even off-label prescribing undermine these principles and this worries me a lot. This is why I can’t and won’t openly support my patients travelling abroad for HSCT; you need to understand that when it comes to access to healthcare I am card-carrying socialist.
We at Barts-MS have been pushing our Essential Off-Label list to improve access to treatments in resource-poor environments. The problem with this is that adoption of off-label prescribing is patchy at best and creates pockets of prescribing in a desert of limited access. The latter creates massive variances in prescribing and inequity. This is why we decided a few years ago to hand the baton of promoting an Essential DMT List, including HSCT, which is on our list, to the MSIF (Multiple Sclerosis International Federation).
The MSIF is an umbrella organisation representing all of the MS Charities from across the world and is therefore in the best position to endorse and promote an Essential DMT list. The MSIF made the strategic decision to go via the WHO Essential Medicines List (WHO-EML). Over the last 2 years, we have actively been working on this and I have had the privilege of co-chairing the MSIF WHO-EML Taskforce with Professor Brenda Banwell. We managed to get an international consensus on three DMTs (glatiramer acetate, fingolimod and ocrelizumab) to be considered for the WHO-EML. Please note HSCT did not make the shortlist mainly because we are trying to address the unmet need in resource-poor countries. Our application is now online and we hope the wider MS community get behind our application. Our application is more than about these three DMTs, it is a political campaign to get the WHO and the world to realise that MS is a problem across the globe; MS is not just a rich world disease. For example, did you know that there are more people with MS in India than there are in the UK?
So to our critics out there, we at Barts-MS have a wider responsibility to the MS community and to support the NHS and the pwMS living in the UK by trying as best we can to uphold the founding principles of the NHS.