SOME cancer patients are missing out on potentially life-saving Covid antivirals because they are being wrongly told they are not eligible, campaigners have warned.

Charity Myeloma UK urged people with the blood cancer to "stand their ground" if they are refused the drugs, which have to be taken within five days of a positive test to be most effective.

The pills, which stop the virus from replicating, should be home delivered by the NHS within 24 hours.

It comes as universal access to free lateral flow devices (LFDs) for asymptomatic testing comes to an end from today in Scotland, with an increased focus on antivirals and vaccines to keep vulnerable people out of hospital even if they do become infected.

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However, Jo Nove, acting chief executive at Myeloma UK, said ongoing confusion over access was putting patients at risk.

She said: "We’re hearing from myeloma patients who have been denied access to antivirals either because they’ve been wrongly told they’re not eligible for treatment, that their symptoms aren’t serious enough or simply because no one knows how to get their hands on them in the first place, more than four months after the antivirals were rolled out.

"The issue of access seems to get worse at the weekend with many left with no choice but to wait until the following Monday.

"This delay means that some of them end up exceeding the five-day cut-off point to receive antivirals."

HeraldScotland: The number of people in hospital with Covid in Scotland has been falling ahead of the changes in access to LFDs due to take effect from Easter MondayThe number of people in hospital with Covid in Scotland has been falling ahead of the changes in access to LFDs due to take effect from Easter Monday

Ms Nove said patients should "not hesitate" to call the antivirals helpline again to speak to someone else, or to contact their GP, consultant or clinical nurse specialist if they were being refused the drugs.

Under the new Covid strategy, anyone eligible for antivirals should be supplied with free LFDs so that they can test themselves if they develop signs of infection.

READ MORE: Testing changes will take most people by surprise 

An evaluation is currently underway at UK level with a view to potentially expanding the list of conditions covered.

However, it is currently limited to Down's syndrome, kidney and liver disease, neurological disorders including MS and MND, HIV/AIDS, various immune deficiency conditions, immune-mediated inflammatory disorders, organ and stem cell transplant recipients, various blood diseases including anyone with myeloma, and people with a solid tumour cancer.

HeraldScotland: Timeline for Covid Transition Plan set out by Scottish Government. Universal access to PCR testing for people with symptoms will end on May 1Timeline for Covid Transition Plan set out by Scottish Government. Universal access to PCR testing for people with symptoms will end on May 1

Charities for patients with Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's are concerned that they are excluded, however.

Jim Pearson, of Alzheimer Scotland, said the situation was "wholly unacceptable", especially as it also excludes them from free LFD supplies.

He pointed to Public Health Scotland data showing that more than 2000 excess deaths among people with dementia during 2020 alone could almost wholly be attributed to Covid, and that dementia is the main pre-existing medical condition in deaths involving the virus.

He said: "The evidence is clear: People with dementia are clinically at risk from Covid infection and that they need equal access to testing and treatments along with others who are clinically most at risk.

"People with dementia and their families have been overwhelmingly and disproportionately affected by this pandemic. Many feel that they have been abandoned and let down.

"We cannot allow that to happen again, these decisions need to be reviewed and must include people with dementia as a matter of great urgency."

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For people not on the list of approved conditions, access to antivirals is only possible through the UK Panoramic clinical trial.

However, it can only enrol around 450 newly positive Covid patients per weekday and is regularly over-subscribed.

Tanith Muller, parliamentary and campaigns manager for Parkinson's UK Scotland, said there was "real confusion and fear" among people living with advanced Parkinson's.

She said: "Typically, a quarter of all the people with Parkinson's in Scotland will have to be admitted to hospital at least once in a year.

"They are at very high risk of needing hospitalisation at the best of times - let alone while Scotland still has such high rates of Covid-19."

HeraldScotland: The prevalence of Covid in the community in Scotland has fallen from a peak of one in 11 in March to one in 17 nowThe prevalence of Covid in the community in Scotland has fallen from a peak of one in 11 in March to one in 17 now

Ms Muller welcomed discussions about potentially broadening the list of conditions covered by antivirals, but added that a "'jam tomorrow' strategy does nothing to deal with people who need reassurance and protection now".

She said: "We're really worried about how this limited list is being used to ration other forms of Covid protection, too - as access to free LFDs is now limited to people who are on the antiviral list.

"We're concerned about what this precedent might mean for access to other forms of protection, like future vaccination rounds or other treatment or support.

"The whole thing is a massive mess."

READ MORE: Fears for most vulnerable amid plan to axe free LFDs for unpaid carers

Ms Muller also questioned the lack of publicity around an apparent U-turn on free LFDs for unpaid carers, who were originally not included among the Scottish Government's priority groups for free test kits from April 18.

Ms Muller welcomed the change, but said the charity had only learned of it by chance from a tweet by Coalition of Carers Scotland on April 13.

She added: "It's very welcome news, but surprisingly low key considering that there are around 800,000 unpaid carers in Scotland who need to know about this very important change to the rules."

In the care sector, care home staff and home carers in the community who carry out "close personal care" for clients at higher risk of Covid will continue to be supplied with free LFDs for twice-weekly asymptomatic testing.

Anyone who tests positive for Covid who believes they are eligible for antivirals should contact their local health board's dedicated helpline, available via the NHS Inform website.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “To support raising awareness of the new treatment options and the access route, a letter has been sent to patients identified through clinical systems as potentially eligible for the new treatments.

“In addition, a text message with information on the access arrangements is being sent to patients identified as potentially eligible at the point of registering a positive test result.

"It is not necessary for an eligible individual to have received a letter or a text to access treatment.”