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Campaign for multiple sclerosis nurse to cover Shetland

May 12, 2004
Frank Urquhart
The Scotsman

THE Shetland Multiple Sclerosis Society has launched a campaign to try to persuade the local health board to recruit a dedicated MS nurse for the islands.

Shetland is reputed to have one of the highest incidences of MS in the world, but a dedicated nurse has still to be appointed, despite MS Scotland offering financial support for the project more than three years ago.

Tom Stove, the chairman of the Shetland MS Society and the independent councillor for Cunningsburgh and Sandwick, said he was disappointed at the lack of progress in the vital appointment.

He said: "Shetland has one of the highest incidences of MS in the world. MS nurse provision has been on the agenda for some time, but unfortunately progress has been much slower than the MS Society would have hoped.

"MS Scotland first wrote to Shetland Health Board offering financial support for this provision in November 2000. The board responded in June 2001, saying it was about to embark on a needs assessment on MS, and this might lead to uptake of the offer of financial support. MS Scotland is unaware, as yet, of this needs assessment having taken place."

Mr Stove said Mark Hazelwood, the director of MS Scotland, had again written last month to Betty Fullerton, the chair of the island health authority, offering financial support for the post, but was still awaiting a reply.

Mr Stove said: "MS Shetland believe that there should be equality of provision across Scotland. They also strongly believe that there is a need for a specialist MS nurse.

"MS is a potentially disabling disease which usually strikes young adults in the prime of life. No two people will experience the same range of severity of symptoms nor follow the same pattern of increasing disability.

"The diagnosis phase is more often than not a time of waiting for up to nine months or more for an appointment to see a neurologist, then waiting for an MRI appointment, then another long wait for results and a confirmed diagnosis. It is a confusing and distressing time, as one awaits the results and considers how they and their family are going to cope."

He claimed: "An MS nurse would help by counselling to allay fears, giving information and advice, refer people to and liaise with other appropriate professionals and by being there to listen.

"We believe that in Shetland, currently, there are people with MS whose needs are not being addressed or met, people who could enjoy a better quality of life. Carers and partners are desperate to have ready access to the type of advice and support that an MS nurse would provide.

"I do not use the word desperate lightly - that is how many of the relatives and carers of our members have described the need to me. Quality of life is important, and those with MS deserve to enjoy the best quality of life possible."

Dr Sarah Taylor, the director of public health for NHS Shetland, said the provision of care for MS sufferers in the islands was being examined as part of a joint initiative with the council, covering people with a range of disabilities.

She said: "In the past we have probably chosen to put our money into local specialist medical support. One of our consultant physicians is a specialist in disability medicine.

"I understand people want specialist nursing support, and that is likely to be something that will come next and we are still in discussions with the MS Society."

Dr Taylor stressed: "This isnít something that we have just been ignoring and pretending isnít happening. This is something that we are currently working on."

Copyright © 2004, The Scotsman