POLITICS

New Brunswick doctors want government to stop funding liberation for MS patients

07/12/2013 12:44 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT
FREDERICTON - The New Brunswick government should stop spending public money on so-called liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis patients because those funds could go to more effective treatment, the New Brunswick Medical Society says.

The society said Friday that the government should immediately suspend a fund it set up two years ago to help people with MS in New Brunswick pay for the treatment abroad.

The group's president, Dr. Robert Desjardins, said recent studies have shown liberation therapy doesn't work for the majority of patients. He said the money set aside for the New Brunswick program would be better spent on clinically effective treatment.

"We think MS patients would benefit more in having this kind of money invested in helping them with physiotherapy or other ways to improve their life," he said in an interview from Bathurst.

Desjardins said the government did the right thing in 2011, but its policy has to change, given the latest evidence.

"If I had such a terrible disease ... I would try to get hope with anything," he said. "(But) we said back then there was no proof of its efficacy. It was more anecdotes. ... I'm not criticizing the fact that the government wanted to help our population. People needed hope, and they needed help."

Desjardins said 82 people in New Brunswick took advantage of the program and travelled abroad for treatment. The total cost of the program was just over $200,000.

The doctor, who practises in Bathurst, said the society is offering to meet with provincial officials to provide clinical advice.

The group represents 1,600 doctors in the province.

In May, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said the government will continue offering public money to people seeking liberation treatment outside Canada despite waning interest in the procedure. It must be performed outside the country as it has not been approved in Canada.

The government did not return a message Friday seeking comment.

The province has budgeted $75,000 this year for the fund on top of the $400,000 it set aside in the first two years of the program.

Applicants can get $2,500 each if a community group raises matching funds for the procedure, which can cost more than $10,000.

While other provinces are studying clinical trials, New Brunswick is the only province that provides funds to help MS patients get the treatment.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba committed funding for clinical trials, while Newfoundland and Labrador commissioned a study of patients who sought the treatment that found no measurable benefits from it.