EVERY day is a “living hell” for Catherine Carroll since the HSE began refusing thousands of people access to pain relief patches.
The patches, Versatis (Lidocaine), were available under the Drug Purchase Scheme, but there has been a significant decrease in availability since a new, second level of approval was introduced by the HSE in September 2017 for GPs who wish to continue prescribing the drug after three months of usage.
Claims that the patches had been withdrawn from the scheme were denied by HSE Director General Tony O’Brien at an Oireachtas Health Committee, but GPs have said they are now almost impossible to get for patients.
More than 90% of requests for the patches from GPs were rejected since the new rules were brought in.
However, Professor Michael Barry of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics has since confirmed that patients with neuropathic (nerve) pain can send an appeal, through their GP, for the patches.
Mallow native Catherine, who appealed for the patches through her GP had her request rejected.
“It’s a living hell, the pain is just unbearable,” she said.
“Someone I’ve never met or spoken to in my life decided that I don’t qualify for pain relief for the pain that is currently crucifying me.”
Catherine, aged 50, suffers from degenerative disc disease and suspected fibromyalgia, which causes chronic pain, and has had a number of unsuccessful surgeries since 1995.
After previously suffering from an addiction to morphine, Catherine said the Versatis patches were the only thing that helped.
She has been without the patches since the beginning of the year and is bedridden with the pain.
Other medication led to Catherine developing an ulcer which burst around 10 years ago, causing her bowel to rip open, almost killing her.
“The patches weren’t invasive at all, unlike other treatments, and while they didn’t cure all my pain, they eased the constant burning at the surface which allowed me to live my life,” said Catherine.
“Without them, I’m in agony. It’s excruciating just moving.
“It’s gotten to the stage where I’ve asked the doctor is it possible to cut off my nerve endings, because, even though I’d end up paralysed, at least I wouldn’t be in pain,” she added.
“It’s tough to wake up in the morning and say ‘not again’ because you know what’s ahead of you.”
John Lindsay, Chairperson of Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI), said the new GP appeal system is flawed and will cause delays.
“People with neuropathic pain should be successful in their appeals but it will cause delays and it also depends on the GP’s wording of the appeal,” said Mr Lindsay.
“It’s not enough to request them, the GP must say their patient has persistent neuropathic pain and all other treatments have been tried and have failed.
“People around Ireland are in chronic pain and they are suffering,” he added.
“It’s a very serious situation which can cause patients to have suicidal thoughts.
“The suddenness of the scheme changes surprised me because the NHS in the UK recommend that these patches should not be removed from a patient unless it is proven that it is safe to do so and unless it is decided by their prescribing doctor.
“It seems the HSE didn’t think this through, didn’t do the necessary research or look at the actual consequences,” he added.
Catherine revealed that the lack of patches and her degenerative condition has had an impact on her mental health.
“It does have an effect on your mental health. I’m depressed because of it,” she said.
“Like many in the same position, suicidal thoughts do cross your mind on occasion but then you look at your children and family and just can’t.
“How can the HSE put a price on a person’s health, their mental well-being, and their whole life?” she asked.
“We can’t march because we’re bedridden but something needs to be done,” said Catherine, who previously worked with Samaritans as a director of outreach, travelling to schools to discuss mental health with students.
A dedicated basketball player in her younger years with Mallow and, for a time, Neptune, Catherine said she would love to be involved in the sport.
“I love it, always will have the appetite, even if I no longer have the ability,” she said. “I’d love to be involved somehow but with the pain I’m in, it’s impossible.”
Catherine, who will receive a state of the art electric bed from the HSE after she spoke on RTÉ Radio’s Liveline, said that while she is grateful for the bed, the money could be spent on Versatis patches.
“It’s great to get the bed, it’ll be a big help, but how many people would’ve gotten Versatis patches for the same price?”
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the move to reduce Versatis use was all about saving money, after the HSE reported a 90% saving following the new rules.
Speaking in the Dáil this week, Deputy Martin said Minister for Health Simon Harris did not consult doctors about the move.
“The Minister for Health did not talk to doctors,” he said.
“There was a 90% saving. That is what this was about.”
Catherine’s condition has caused her to miss out on family milestones and, without the patches, she said this will continue.
“The worst part, worse than the pain, is missing family milestones,” she said.
When her son played underage GAA for Cork, she was unable to see him pull on the Rebel jersey.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “When he captained his school team to victory, he made sure they stopped off at home so he could show me the trophy which was just fantastic of him.
“My husband Niall, my three kids and my three sisters have been great, they can’t do enough for me, but it’s no life,” she added.
:: For anyone affected by issues raised in this article contact the Samaritans on 116123.