New threat to MS centres

NEW inspection fees today threaten the future of multiple sclerosis therapy centres across East Anglia - which have asked MPs to raise their plight at the highest level.

NEW inspection fees today threaten the future of multiple sclerosis therapy centres across East Anglia - which have asked MPs to raise their plight at the highest level.

A delegation of representatives from 37 centres across the country, including the MS Therapy Centre at Great Blakenham, travelled to the Houses of Parliament to get their voices heard against the new Healthcare Commission's inspection fees.

They warn the news system will drain vital funds and ultimately force some centres to close down. The government classes the centres, which are voluntary organisations reliant of fundraising and donations, in the same category as profit-making businesses like private care homes and government-funded organisations.

That requires the centres to be inspected every year, which will cost the centre at Great Blakenham more than £1,000 a year initially, rising to more than £4,000 by 2008.

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The forms that the centre's volunteers have to complete before the inspection, are also 200 pages long which adds to the administrative burden.

Peter Owens, chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis National Therapy Centres, said: "Is it right that we are expected to use charitable funds to pay the wages of government inspectors? We are more than happy to provide high standards and receive inspections - we do already from health and safety, environmental health, and the fire service free of charge - but feel we should receive dispensation in paying these costs due to our special case and being such a small group in the overall picture."

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He added: "I seem to recall the government had to make a u-turn with care homes after so many of them closed, are we to be next? If so, 9,000 people with MS receiving vital therapies each week will be left with no support once again."

In 2004, more than 600 treatments were provided in hyperbaric oxygen chambers at the MS Therapy Centre in Great Blakenham. The centre which has featured in The Evening Star is the only one in the UK with three tanks and can treat 17 people at once.

Chairman Peter Sims met the five MPs at the Houses of Parliament and is hopeful they will take up the case.

He said: "Our aim is safety, but we are being treated the same as profit-making nursing homes, which we are nothing like. We are already running as near to the bone as possible, and when it comes to an extra £4,000 a year we can't fund it."

Treasurer Eddie Sparling said: "We have to raise £14,000 a year to keep the centre running, and we are now faced with having to find another £4,000 a year for inspection fees, which will greatly increase the pressure."

He warned that pressure will force some centres in the region to close, leaving MS sufferers having to travel further for treatment or miss out altogether.

He added: "It is unlikely that the NHS will be able to step in and provide the facility."

For more details about the oxygen therapy, call 01473 830359 Tuesday or Wednesday mornings.

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