Latest figures showing variation in access to neurology services come as no surprise
The publication of the National Neurology Intelligence Network’s first ever figures on neurological outpatient appointments in England brings both good and bad news. The report is the latest to show that access to neurology services and specialists varies significantly across the country.
The finding that there is significant variation in access to services will come as no surprise to people living with MS, or the health professionals who support them. Over the last few years reports from the MS Trust, the Public Accounts Committee, National Audit Office and Neurological Alliance have highlighted significant and unacceptable variation in the quality and availability of support and treatment for neurological conditions. Neurology services are far too often invisible, and data on even basic issues such as the number of patients in a local area with specific neurological conditions is simply missing.
The National Audit Office recently commented that the lack of progress in rectifying the shortage of useful data is holding back improvements in access to specialist services. The Neurology Intelligence Network’s figures are therefore to be welcomed, even if the picture they paint is not.
Everyone with a diagnosis of MS should receive appropriate, timely, high quality care. In addition to these new figures, our own research has shown that there is a significant shortfall of MS specialist nurses across the UK, and we are aware that there are too few neurologists who specialise in MS. Services are overstretched with one-third of people with MS living in areas where MS nurses have at least double the sustainable caseload. It will require coordinated effort by many in the MS community to ensure there is the capacity in MS services to meet the need now and in the future.
Having access to health professionals with appropriate expertise and experience in managing MS is the very least that every person living with MS should expect, no matter where they live. The MS community needs to find ways to help those commissioning and delivering services to find joint solutions to the barriers that stop people from accessing the right services at the right time.
The MS Trust is committed to building a strong community of practice to understand how MS services can provide greater access to care, make best use of current resources and skills, and measure the quality and equity of access to services for everyone with a diagnosis of MS. Our Generating Evidence in MS Services project (GEMSS) was designed to address this by working with 16 MS teams supporting nearly 13,000 people with MS to help them evaluate their own services and to collect data on activity, caseloads and outcomes. The final report, to be published in November 2015, will add significantly to the evidence-base and delve into some of the underlying issues which result in variation in practice.
Building on the GEMSS project, over the next year, the MS Trust will lead the way in creating a community of practice to tackle the crucial issues of equity, efficiency and effectiveness of services, and to identify service models that could enable greater access to care. We will be announcing the details of this work at our annual conference in November. Watch this space for further details.