Thursday, 19 November 2015 21:52

Don’t hold your breath

Stephens in hospital where the new dose of medicine was described Stephens in hospital where the new dose of medicine was described

Relying on Cyprus’ public health service had one Limassol citizen gasping for air – quite literally.

Frank Stephens describes himself as a fighter by nature. Diagnosed in 2009 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe, he has since then had to rely on medicine to help him get oxygen to his lungs.

The struggle for breath has become part of his daily life. However, his recent four-month battle with the Ministry of Health for his life-saving medicine and the slowness or even total absence of a reply by those in charge was a new challenge.

Thanks to his own resourcefulness and family in the UK, Stephens has been able to acquire the necessary medicine, but one does wonder about how a less-outspoken, less-computer savvy person will fare.

In 2009 Stephens was diagnosed with COPD at the Nicosia General Hospital, and in 2015 with end-stage of COPD, requiring the prescription of a new dose of medicine.

On June 18, no refill of the medication, which must be taken several times a day, was available, as the pharmacy was out of stock. Over a month later, on July 27, a five-day supply was made available and another five-day supply six weeks later.

During this time, Stephens had been contacting the head pharmacists at Nicosia General Hospital, the Drugs Committee, the Ombudsman and the Permanent Secretary of Health.

A month to reply

The Drugs Committee in Nicosia replied on August 18 – one month after the inquiry with the subject line ‘life-saving medicine’ – saying that the person responsible for any availability of medicine was the Head Pharmacist of the General Hospital of Limassol.

To date, there has been no reply from the Permanent Secretary of Health and one reply from the Ombudswoman that the matter was being assessed. Stephens has since also contacted the European Commission in the UK who have created a file about the case.

During the search, a phone call revealed that the local Medochemie Ltd had plenty of the required medication in stock. In his desperate search for the medicine, the patient also contacted the UK supplier of national hospitals, who said that the Cyprus government does not allow the importation of any medication.

A new stock of the required Steri-Ned (Ventolin) finally became available in late October, but a 50-day supply is still outstanding from previous prescriptions which Stephens hopes to receive to replace the ones purchased via his family in the UK in case they run out of stock again in Cyprus.

Speaking out to help others

“My lungs may be useless, but my brain appears to be working fine,” says a jovial Stephens, “I will fight for my right, not even for my own sake, but for others, who may not be able to.”

The British pensioner holds an E121 which is a contract between the UK and Cyprus Governments to receive the same medical treatment as Cypriot pensioners.

Coming from a family of 11 children, Stephens was a non-commissioned officer at the age of 19 in charge of the well-being of young men in Hong Kong, Yemen and Kuwait.

He says, “I learnt early that power must always be tempered with responsibility. It seems the Hippocratic Oath quite frequently goes out the window. If nobody speaks out against such misdemeanour, things will only get worse.”

Article as published in The Cyprus Weekly of November 13, 2015 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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