Pensioner’s plea for benefit of pain relief

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It’s chronic: Albert Mew has suffered extreme headaches for years. Picture: Yanni

AN elderly man suffering from what he describes as the “worst pain known to man, or the suicide headache” is pushing for the most effective – but most expensive – treatment to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Pensioner Albert Mew, 77, said he could vouch for the grim depiction of the ailment after suffering extreme pain for years. “I have now been diagnosed as a chronic sufferer which means hardly a day goes by when I don’t get one,” he said.

“Most days it is three or four and sometimes as many as six. There is no cure at present; I have tried many medications but none have worked.”

The dictionary describes cluster headache (CH) as a neurological disorder characterised by recurrent severe headaches on one side of the head, typically around the eye. They are often accompanied by eye watering, nasal congestion, or swelling around the eye on the affected side. Symptoms can last 15 minutes or up to three hours.

Mr Mew, of Mount Martha, said medication to ease the pain included Sumatriptan or Imigran which came in three forms: tablet, nasal spray, or self-ministered injection. “The tablet takes so long to work, the nasal spray is better along with home oxygen but there is no subsidy from the government,” he said. “On the other hand the injection is brilliant and the relief I get is a godsend. Because the tablet and the nasal spray are on the PBS I don’t get charged at the chemist as I have reached the safety net. However, the injection kit with two injections costs $135 and, as a 77-year-old pensioner, I simply cannot afford them too often. I take one with me if I am out for the day.”

Mr Mew is urging other sufferers of cluster headache to lobby health minister and Flinders MP Greg Hunt in the hope he may be able to have the injections placed on the PBS, or at least be made available at a reduced cost.

But Mr Hunt – who says he has written to Mr Mew over several years to “discuss his ongoing issues living with cluster headaches” – says he is powerless to help.

He said he had “no legal authority” to list medications, or change the eligible conditions to which they can be used, without a positive recommendation from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

“The PBAC can only review a medication if a pharmaceutical company puts forward an application to them for review,” Mr Hunt said.

“If the manufacturer was to put forward an application to the PBAC for the treatment of cluster headaches, it would be considered under the normal process.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 3 March 2020

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