Government should listen to Doddie Weir and ensure access to MND research funding, MP says

The Government should listen to Doddie Weir and fulfil its funding promise on motor neurone disease research by making the money easier to access, a Conservative MP has said.

Rugby union star Weir played a key role in a campaign for more funding for motor neurone disease (MND) research which led to Boris Johnson’s government committing £50 million last November.

The former Scotland and British and Irish Lions lock (pictured) revealed in June 2017 that he was suffering from the disease, which causes the brain and nerves to progressively degenerate.

The all-party parliamentary Rugby League group (APPRLG) raised concerns in May that the money was too difficult to access for researchers because of “red tape”.

In the Commons on Thursday, John Lamont, Tory MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk in Scotland, backed his constituent Weir’s campaign to improve access to the funds.

Mr Lamont said: “We owe it to Doddie and everyone in his position to keep fighting for a cure. And we owe it to Doddie to listen closely to his frank assessment of the Government’s funding for research.

“He said recently that this Government needs to act with more urgency. He said the fight for a cure is ‘definitely getting better, but the Government has not given MND the money they promised. The current process for accessing the money is just not delivering for the MND community… it needs to be streamlined or the professors will spend their valuable time writing multiple applications instead of tackling MND’.”

Mr Lamont welcomed the £50 million commitment, saying: “That victory, won overwhelmingly by Doddie’s relentless campaigning, was a wonderful display of compassionate Government. It is one of the finest actions this Conservative Government has taken.

“But just as Doddie never stopped on the pitch, and continues to never stop loving life we must keep pushing to make sure this vital funding reaches the frontline faster.

“So today I want to urge the Government and the minister to listen to Doddie and do what he asks.

“Not just for his sake, but for every patient in need of some hope. Provide more research for MND research, improve the process, deliver on our promises, and let’s continue to play our part in finding a cure for this awful disease.”

He was speaking in a Commons debate brought by fellow Conservative MP Andrew Lewer (Northampton South), who called on the Government to improved access to mental health services for those suffering with MND, establish a neuro task force to improve neurology services, and expand access to the Covid booster vaccine programme to MND carers.

He also asked the Government to try and ensure disability benefits rise with inflation, and “increase the emergency support package announced in May to ensure that those most vulnerable are supported through the coming winter”.

Meanwhile, SNP health spokesman Martyn Day told ministers they should “follow the lead” of the Scottish government in providing universal free prescriptions.

He said: “Free prescriptions are just one small way in which we can help improve the quality of life of those who have been diagnosed with MND while the research is still ongoing.

“Prescription charges as we know were abolished in Scotland in 2011 while in England, the current charge is £9.35.”

Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne spoke about the issue of housing, stressing “providing housing that meets the accessibility needs of people with MND is a vital part of making sure that they can maintain their dignity, independence and the choice to stay in their own home for as long as possible”.

He added: “The NHS, social care and housing are the steps needed for a better future for those with MND. Labour is committed to delivering this, and we’re committed to supporting this Government while it remains in office in also delivering this. Please, let’s just get on with it.”

In his closing remarks, health minister Neil O’Brien reiterated the Government’s commitment to invest £50 million over the next five years.

He said: “We have heard during this debate of the need for greater investment in MND research. We’ve talked already about the 50 million that we are investing over the next five years and that commitment was reaffirmed both in September and again today.

“That money is available to apply for now from the NIHR (National Institute for Health and Care Research), from UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) as well, and officials continue to work closely with the MND research community and those aligned scientific disciplines to ensure the scientific ambitions for MND research can be realised.”

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