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Timebomb Fear As Growing Numbers Diagnosed With Neurological Conditions

January 17, 2012

The NHS is facing a “neurology timebomb” as the number of people with conditions such as Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease (MND) increases, an umbrella organisation for charities in the field has said.

The Neurological Alliance, which represents more than 70 charities and organisations, said the NHS will be caught unawares unless urgent action is taken and accused the government of having its “head in the sand”.

Figures from Parkinson’s UK suggest that by 2020 will be 162,000 people with Parkinson’s disease – which affects actor Michael J Fox and boxing legend Muhammad Ali – 28% more that the 127,000 now diagnosed.

The number with MND is set to rise by 27% in the same period and 50 people are newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) every week.

The alliance argues that services are being run in a “haphazard way” with no clear strategy, potentially wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

It follows a damning report in December from the National Audit Office (NAO), which found that emergency hospital admissions for people with neurological conditions have risen by almost a third despite a government financial investment in services.

While access to services has improved and waiting times have fallen, the study found, key areas of care have got worse.

In 2009-10, 14% of people with Parkinson’s, MS and MND who were discharged from hospital after an overnight stay were readmitted within 28 days as an emergency. People admitted as an emergency are also often treated by doctors and nurses with no neurological training, with evidence suggesting this worsens outcomes for patients. Furthermore, the report found delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Steve Ford, the chair of the Neurological Alliance and chief executive of Parkinson’s UK, said: “A crisis is looming but the government has its head in the sand. When it comes to helping vulnerable people with a neurological condition, the government is floundering around in a fog of its own making.

“We need a leader to champion improvements – a neurology tsar, if you like, backed up with a plan and a strategy. “When diabetes, cancer and stroke were assigned tsars, things really started to happen. People affected by neurological conditions are fed up with being at the bottom of the government’s ‘to do’ list.

“It is time the Department of Health sorted out this mess. It’s not about spending more money: it’s about getting good value and quality services.”

Ford will give evidence to the Commons public accounts committee on Wednesday in light of the NAO report.

Simon Gillespie, the chief executive of the MS Society, added: “The government now needs to send a clear message to everyone living with a neurological condition that these services are a priority.”

The estimated number of people who have MND in the UK is 4,200, but this is predicted to rise to 5,330 by 2020. About 100,000 people in the UK have MS.

The Liberal Democrat minister of state for care services, Paul Burstow, said: “We know that care for people with neurological conditions is not good enough and we must do more. It is clear that too many people are not getting personalised support to suit their needs.

“This is exactly why we need to reform the NHS so we give people with long-term health conditions more control over their care and support, in consultation with clinicians. That is why we are developing a new outcomes strategy, piloting personal health budgets, and rolling out tele-health to deliver better results for people and make sound use of NHS resources.”

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