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Charity calls for urgent action for neurology services

 

MS Society Scotland wants to see better support for those with long term conditions

A Scottish health charity is calling for the government to take urgent action to improve neurology and MS services.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) Society Scotland handed in an open letter at Holyrood last week (Thursday 28 October) to the public health minister Maree Todd MSP.

With more than 1,000 signatures, the letter urges the Scottish Government to address the crisis in neurology care and take steps to ensure everyone with MS can access the support they need.

With one in five people in Scotland living with a neurological condition, findings from the MS Society’s #NeurologyNow report – released in October – reveal that neurology services are severely stretched, underfunded, and overlooked. The report also exposes the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on already-struggling neurology services.

The findings reveal:

• Only one in 10 neurology professionals say their service has complete access to the range of professionals’ people with MS need.

• Almost two thirds (63%) of neurology professionals find it extremely or very challenging to provide a good service to all their patients.

• During the pandemic people with MS experienced their symptoms worsening, with over half (53%) saying this was caused by not getting specialist support.

The research follows a Public Health Scotland report from June 2021, which showed over 15,500 Scots – the equivalent number of people living with MS in Scotland – are waiting for an outpatient neurology appointment, up 25% from December 2020.

As waiting lists have gone up, the number of people being diagnosed with MS has gone down. There were just 450 people diagnosed in 2020, compared to 540 in 2019.

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland, said: “The findings from our report are deeply troubling. Neurology and MS services have been stretched, underfunded and overlooked for years and this can’t continue.

“MS can be relentless, painful and disabling, so having access to the right professional support at the right time is essential. Healthcare professionals, like MS nurses, want to support people with MS – but there simply isn’t enough of them and the backlog from the pandemic is huge. We need to see urgent action from both the Scottish and UK Governments to address this crisis – they’re close to breaking point.”

Mary, 69, from the Borders, was diagnosed with relapsing MS in 1983.

The retired NHS manager she spoke of her experience of accessing healthcare during the pandemic.

She said: “In the Borders, we’ve been without an MS Nurse for more than six months because our former nurse retired and the health board has only just recruited a replacement.

“Getting support from an MS Nurse is absolutely vital. Before we lost our MS Nurse, I would get two reviews a year to see if I needed any support to help manage my MS symptoms.

“Losing our MS Nurse has meant our Neurologist has been doing two jobs for the last six months, so this has definitely had an impact on the support. 

“During the pandemic, my mobility issues have gotten worse. My balance isn’t as good as it used to be and I can’t walk as far.

“More than three months ago, I spoke to my Neurologist and they said they wanted to see me in person as soon as possible to assess my mobility. It’s now October and I still don’t know when I will be seen.

“We only have one hospital locally and that covers a large area geographically. Since COVID they’ve turned the day service into a Covid assessment service.   Now, getting a face to face appointment for neurology is really difficult.

“My mobility issues can’t really be properly assessed over the phone so until I get a face-to-face appointment, I can’t get the support I need.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We welcome the MS Society’s report on the issues faced by people with MS and wider neurological conditions throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and public health minister Maree Todd recently met the MS Society to discuss the findings and the ongoing development of MS services in Scotland.

“We’re committed to ensuring that people living in Scotland with MS are able to access the best possible care and support, and benefit from safe, effective and person-centred healthcare.

“That’s why we’re investing £4.5 million over five years to implement our National Neurological Framework and over the last year we have we have awarded £1.4 million to fund innovative projects and invested more than £300,000 to projects which improve the health and wellbeing of people with MS in Scotland.”

 

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