Hope for Multiple Sclerosis patients as proposal to change 'inhumane' test could prolong supply of 'wonderdrug'

After six years of lobbying drug-buying agency Pharmac, there's some hope for patients with Multiple Sclerosis.

Currently, hundreds of patients are being kicked off their medication if their condition is deemed to be getting worse, part of the test involves walking five hundred metres unaided, which can be a difficult task for those with Multiple Sclerosis. 

The test rules have been described as "inhumane" and "third world."

Multiple Sclerosis can impact the lives of both males and females, but it more commonly targets women in the prime of their life.

Christchurch woman Ingrid Robinson was in her early thirties when she was diagnosed back in 1999.

"I was walking down the stairs and I couldn't turn right, I could only turn left which was right into the wall so I went and they diagnosed me."

For the past year, she's been on medication and a recent MRI scan showed no new lesions. 

Robinson says the medication is a "wonderdrug" allowing her to live a normal life. 

"I mean I've got Multiple Sclerosis but I'm working part-time, I'm still driving my car."

Multiple Sclerosis patients are assessed every year with what's known in the community as a yearly "walk of shame". They have to walk 500 metres the length of five rugby fields unaided.

If they can't do it they're taken off their medication, with the belief the drugs may no longer do any good.

President of Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand says its "inhumane."

"We definitely think it's inhumane, principally because it's depriving people of a drug at a time it can make the most difference."

Ingrid's due to be assessed again next year, and she's scared.

"You panic and you're nervous about it every year. It's always at the back of your mind that you have to walk this 500 metres unaided. You know in a way your life hangs on completing this 500 metres."

But a new Pharmac proposal could change it all.

Patients with Multiple Sclerosis are scored from zero to ten on a scale ten being the worst, zero the least.

Currently, if your score increases by more than two points or you go higher than 4.5 your Pharmac-funded drugs are cut off.

The proposal would change all of this, the cut-off point would be raised to six allowing more people with Multiple Sclerosis to qualify for the medication.

If the proposal goes through patients will only have to walk 100 metres instead of the 500 and they'll be able to have an aid.

President of Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand Neil Woodhams agrees that after a certain point drugs are no longer effective, but he doesn't believe it's at the current score of 4.5.

"If we compare ourselves with Australia or the UK or US, Canada, most of the European countries have access beyond 4.5 on the scale." 

If the changes are approved they'll come into force in March.