Lack of pain killer 'may drive people to despair'
Some sufferers of debilitating nerve pain are at risk of taking their own lives following the controversial decision to ration access to a treatment patch that has provided relief from their misery.
John Lindsay, chairman of support group Chronic Pain Ireland, is concerned for the emotional health of a number of people who can no longer be prescribed the Versatis pain-relieving patch under HSE medicines schemes.
It follows the HSE decision to issue new prescribing rules, confining its use to patients with lasting nerve pain in an area previously affected with shingles.
Thousands of other patients with nerve pain from other conditions are no longer eligible.
"I have spoken to people who are afraid they will take their own lives because it is only thing that has worked for them.
"About 15 to 20 of our members end their own lives every year," he warned.
Mr Lindsay has disputed claims by the HSE that there is little evidence to indicate the patch works for non-shingles patients.
He pointed to the decision by most health districts in the UK to continue to allow it be prescribed for all forms of neuropathic pain, regardless of the cause.
"The Lancashire medicines board states there is ample evidence that the patch treats all neuropathic pain", he insisted.
The HSE said yesterday that it could still be prescribed "in exceptional circumstances" for nerve pain not linked to shingles.
A spokeswoman pointed to an appeal mechanism for exceptional cases.
Since the rule was introduced in recent months, 1,500 patients have received the patch for shingles-related pain.
Some 4,289 have sought it for nerve pain due to other conditions and 10pc were approved.
It emerged yesterday that a Waterford man, who will be 100 years old in April, is among those whose prescription has been cancelled.
Ann Nolan Walsh said her father Patrick, who has arthritis in his back and hips, was able to walk and be more mobile due to the daily use of the patches.
Ms Nolan Walsh, who is her father's carer, was among a flood of callers to RTÉ's 'Liveline', expressing their distress at the rationing of the patches.
"I notice I am now having to practically carry him out of bed," Ms Nolan Walsh told the Irish Independent.
"He was given a cream instead of the patch but it does not work."
He used two patches a day but despite his family's pleas he is no longer eligible for them.