Doddie Weir has revealed how he was forced to seek private treatment in the US after being denied an experimental drug that could have prolonged his life.
The former Scotland rugby player announced last year that he was suffering from motor neurone disease (MND). The degenerative condition currently has no cure.
The 47-year-old, who was capped 61 times by Scotland, told how he contacted NHS Borders with his doctor’s support to ask for funding for Masitinib - a potentially life-extending drug.
But Weir accused the health service of “callousness” after his appeal fell on deaf ears.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph this week, Weir said he felt that he had no other option than to travel abroad in a bid to access treatment, which he hopes will give him more time with his family.
Weir said: “I had applied to receive a course of a French drug called Masitinib. Studied have shown that it slows the effects of MND but it has never been used in the UK before.”
Hailing the hard work carried out by dedicated doctors and nurses, Weir hit out at the “negative” and “risk-averse” NHS, adding: “When you are diagnosed with a terminal disase, there is no longer such a thing as risk.
“If there are any side-effects then I will deal with them and, if necessary, come off the drugs.
“When I read that they will review my application again in October, I wanted to scream. By October, I could be dead.”
Weir travelled to America last week after former Sale Sharks owner Brian Kennedy stepped in to help the former Scotland lock.
He continued: “[Kennedy] put me in touch with some MND specialists and the first thing they said was that we are going to try everything we can to help you.
“After months of hearing ‘we can’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do that’ it was wonderful to hear someone say what they can do for you. Some hope is better than no hope.”
Weir took aim at the NHS, accusing the service of failing MND patients, saying: “The only drug the NHS will permit you to take for MND is 22 years old. That there have been no developments in a quarter of a century displays a shocking callousness and indifference towards MND sufferers.
“I refuse to believe that more cannot be done to combat this wicked disease,” Weir added.
NHS Borders director of pharmacy Alison Wilson said the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use had refused authorisation for Masitinib in May and September last year, claiming that the ‘benefits did not outweigh the risks’.
Weir is among a number of former athletes who have been diagnosed with MND. Former Rangers defender Fernando Ricksen is suffering from a particularly aggressive form of the disease while Weir’s fellow ex-rugby international, former South Africa captain Joost van Der Westhuizen, lost his battle with the condition last year at the age of 45.