New Brunswick’s doctors are urging the provincial government to immediately suspend funding for liberation therapy and divert it to other "clinically effective" methods of treating multiple sclerosis.
Recent studies have shown liberation therapy, which involves opening up narrow neck veins, is largely ineffective for most patients, and in some cases results in complications, New Brunswick Medical Society president, Dr. Robert Desjardins, said in a statement on Friday.
"It’s time for New Brunswick to suspend funding for individuals seeking this treatment," he said.
New Brunswick is the only province that provides tax dollars to patients to help them get the procedure, which has not been approved as a viable treatment in Canada and must be performed outside the country.
Requests for the fund have dropped off, said Desjardins, but dozens of people who wanted liberation therapy have been approved for payments of $2,500 each.
"The funding was announced before trials on the treatment were fully completed," he said. "It’s time to move on and use those health dollars to help MS patients through proven means."
The medical society has offered to meet with provincial officials to provide clinical advice about other treatments shown to improve outcomes for patients with MS, said Desjardins.
Budget of $75,000
The call from doctors to stop funding the controversial treatment comes on the heels of a similar plea by independent MLA and retired surgeon Jim Parrott.
The Alward government set up a fund in 2010 to match up to $2,500 in community donations for patients who want to travel outside of New Brunswick to get liberation therapy.
But in May, Parrot argued the fund, which has a budget of $75,000 this year, should be rescinded.
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has said the fund, which falls under his department, was a campaign promise, but he planned to seek advice from doctors on the issue.
Health Minister Ted Flemming has also said it may be time to reconsider the fund.
Liberation therapy can cost more than $10,000.
The treatment is based on a hypothesis by Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni who claimed that MS might be linked to narrowed veins and that removing the blockages could relieve symptoms.
But a recent University of Buffalo study found liberation therapy did not improve symptoms — and actually made a few patients worse.