More MS news articles for March 2001

Long waits for neurology patients

Patients with neurological conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord and nerves face unacceptably long waits for specialist care, MPs have been told.

Around 3 million people in the UK suffer from neurological conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease and stroke - only heart disease and cancer affect a higher number of people.

Last week the government announced a new National Service Framework for treating people with long-term health conditions.

But MPs heard on Tuesday that patients referred to a neurologist can often wait over six months for a non-emergency appointment. The longest waits are up to two years.

The research was carried out by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow.

The Association of British Neurologists (ABN) recommends that all patients with neurological emergencies should see a neurologist within 24 hours of being admitted.

But Mr Burstow's research found that only 14% of hospitals surveyed could provide this level of care.

Acute neurology patients account for 20% of admissions to medical wards.

However, there are only six neurologists per million of population in the UK compared to 100 per million of population in Denmark, 71 in Italy and 40 in the USA.

Cinderella of NHS

Mr Burstow said: "Long term health conditions have been the Cinderella of the NHS.

"People with chronic conditions often face an uphill battle to get their health care needs even identified let alone properly met.

"Delayed diagnosis of neurological conditions can rob people of years of their life.

"Early treatment can make a real difference delaying the progression of conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

"Access to appropriate treatment and support for the sufferer and their family can add life to the years they have left."

Mr Burstow said early diagnosis could also help families to come to terms with progressive diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Professor Charles Warlow, President-Elect of the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) said: "Disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves are very common and tend to be overlooked in the NHS.

"The evidence is disturbing. Neurology waiting times extend well beyond the average time stated in the NHS plan.

"Nearly 70 per cent of non-urgent outpatients wait longer than 13 weeks to see a neurologist following referral."

Professor Warlow welcomed the fact that MPs had debated the issue.

"The fact this has moved up the Parliamentary agenda is good news for the millions of people in the UK with neurological conditions.

"Current levels of care are very variable, with notable differences from region to region."