Interferon beta is a new and expensive drug for treating multiple sclerosis. One published trial has shown that it reduces the exacerbation rate in patients who have relapsing-remitting disease without important disability. This paper describes the development of a strategy for purchasing the drug in one region of England before its licensing. Purchasers felt unable to decline funding for this marginally effective drug and thereby undertake explicit rationing. To ensure prescribing was within the guidelines, a vast communication network had to be sustained with managers, general practitioners, neurologists, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and professional advisers in all the purchasing authorities. The workload involved was considerable. The dilemma of rationing in a public service with a high political profile is demonstrated
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