HC Deb 24 February 1958 vol 583 cc16-9
31 Mr. McKay

asked the Minister of Health (1) if he is aware that the Health Department of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have agreed to send the Russian vaccine for multiple sclerosis to a constituent of the honourable Member for Wallsend, that the officials at the Newcastle Office of Customs and Excise said the vaccine could not be imported until the drug in the vaccine was declared, and that this has been reported to the Russian Ambassador; and if he will therefore communicate with the Ambassador to see what can be done to allow the special supply of the vaccine for Mr. Francis Armstrong Slater, 13, March Road, Trindley Estate, Dudley, Northumberland, to be imported into the country to meet this special case;

(2) if he is aware that the medical authorities in this country admit that they can do nothing to help those who suffer from multiple sclerosis and that the Russian authorities have a vaccine for this disease; and if he will attempt to get special arrangements made with the Russians for supplies to be allowed into this country in individual cases where the Russian authorities are prepared to send it;

(3) if he is aware that a New Zealand firm of pharmaceutical manufacturers and importers has undertaken to import supplies in bulk of the Russian vaccine for multiple sclerosis because of favourable results from its use on patients in New Zealand; and if he will arrange to import bulk supplies of this vaccine here for general use.

37. Mr. Brockway

asked the Minister of Health if he will make arrangements for the importation of the Russian vaccine for the treatment of multiple sclerosis; and if he will take immediate action to allow a special supply of this vaccine for Mrs. Elizabeth Kelly, of Cippenham, Slough, in view of the circumstances which the honourable Member for Eton and Slough has communicated to him.

Mr. Walker-Smith

As stated in my reply of 10th February to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) I am advised that the evidence at present available is not sufficient to enable an opinion to be given on the efficacy or safety of this vaccine in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In these circumstances, it would be quite wrong for sufferers to be encouraged to build their hopes on it, and no arrangement for its general importation could be justified. I am, however, prepared to advise the release by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise of small quantities obtained for individual treatment on the advice of a patient's medical practitioner. I have written to the hon. Members for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) and Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) about the individual cases mentioned.

Mr. McKay

I am very thankful to the Minister for his reply and for the facilities he is prepared to give for individual cases. Is he aware that ten countries now have free importations of this vaccine? Would he consider favourably bulk purchase of this vaccine by any firm for the general use of the people here? Would he also consider the advisability of setting up clinics for this special disease under the National Health Service?

Mr. Walker-Smith

In regard to the importation of large-scale purchases, these would, of course, be commercial imports to which the provisions of the Therapeutic Substances Act would apply, and they would require a licence. No application for licence for commercial imports has been made. In regard to research, we are actively working on the problems of this very intractable disease.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the Minister's reply mean that, although the vaccine will come from a reputable scientific source in the Soviet Union, he is not prepared to accept some which could be examined by one of our publicly-financed research organisations?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Private importation of this vaccine in the circumstances that I have mentioned is not prohibited but, as I have said in answer to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), when I indicated the position in regard to commercial imports, and, as I repeat, no application for licence has been made.

Mr. Dudley Williams

Have experiments been made in my right hon. and learned Friend's Department about the effectiveness of this vaccine? There is a considerable feeling, of which I have no doubt my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, that we ought to examine the claims for this vaccine very carefully?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Oh, yes, my medical officers are naturally inquiring into this matter. My hon. Friend refers to the claims; and again, it is right not to get the matter out of proportion. I am advised that one of the originators of the vaccine claims that it helps no more than about one-third of the patients treated.

Mr. Brockway

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the very helpful communication he has sent to me on this matter, may I ask him whether he will seek immediately to get the fullest information from Russia about the effectiveness of this vaccine, that he will have it immediately considered by the research officers of his Ministry, and will get information from New Zealand and other countries which are receiving this vaccine and from which, apparently, favourable reports come?

Mr. Walker-Smith

We will certainly get all the information we can and do all the research we can in this matter. I am already making inquiries of New Zealand of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

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