Lizzy Buchan: MS patients deserve better treatment

Scotland has one of the highest incidences of multiple sclerosis in the world. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Scotland has one of the highest incidences of multiple sclerosis in the world. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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For some people it might be a numbness or tingling in their limbs, or perhaps an extra bit of clumsiness, that gives the first indication that something might be wrong.

For many, multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable diagnosis.

The relapsing condition tends to worsen with time and can cause devastating fatigue, pain, mobility problems and cognitive dysfunction.

Despite this, many people lead positive and vital lives, particularly when the disease goes into remission and the symptoms lessen.

Scotland has one of the highest incidences of multiple sclerosis in the world, with more than 11,000 people living with the condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the body.

Yet there is still a shocking lack of understanding about the condition, as shown in a poll by the MS Society published this week.

The charity found that around 45 per cent of people felt stigmatised because of their symptoms, while nearly three quarters said mistreatment by others made life more difficult.

The poll laid bare some of these shocking scenarios, where patients are accused of everything from being drunk to looking “too well” to be eligible for disabled benefits.

Around 35 per cent were accused of wrongly parking their cars in a disabled parking space because they did not appear disabled.

Another 47 per cent of people said they were accused of exaggerating the extent of their MS because they “look so well”.

MS is a lifelong neurological condition where the protective coating around the nerve fibres in the brain and the spinal cord is damaged. Not only does the disease strip people of their agency, of control of their bodies, and often, their future, it also apparently strips them of their humanity and their right to dignity and compassion.

It takes a lot to shock me these days but I was stunned when one MS patient told me that she had fallen in the street and someone had simply stepped over her lying on the ground, and walked away tutting. No-one deserves such disgraceful treatment and I cannot imagine how degrading and upsetting that must have felt.

Even if she had been drunk – as so many MS patients are accused of being – that still does not justify treating someone like they are less than a piece of rubbish.

MS is not a fringe issue, or something that happens to other people. It is a major health concern which affects thousands of Scots who are not, and should not be seen as a faceless minority.

As the population ages and people live longer with chronic conditions, there is no excuse for shutting our eyes.

Pioneering work is being done across Scotland to revolutionise MS treatment, such as the excellent team at the Anne Rowling Clinic in Edinburgh, which is part-funded by Harry Potter author JK Rowling, in memory of her mother Anne, who had MS.

But more must be done to raise awareness of MS and other similar conditions for those already living with the daily reality of their diagnosis.

The very least that any of us can do is to treat them with the respect and kindness that everyone deserves.

After all, a diagnosis of MS does not take away somebody’s humanity.

Neither should it strip away yours.