The Neurological Alliance Reports on NHS Patient Experiences 4 Dec 2017

Contrary to the general perception that neurological conditions are rare, in England alone there are around 12.5 million people with neurological disorders. This alone represents a cost to the NHS of around £4.4 billion for neurology services. Disorders of the brain and nervous system represent between 10-20% of acute hospital admissions. Diagnoses that fall under the neurological umbrella include epilepsy, migraine, stroke, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s disease. Most neurological conditions are life-long and can be both complex and severe.

The Neurological Alliance

The Neurological Alliance describes itself as ‘the only collective voice for 80 organisations working together to make life better for millions of people in England with a neurological condition’. The group aims to ‘raise awareness and understanding of neurological conditions’ and to ensure that ‘every person diagnosed with a neurological condition has access to high quality’ services.

In November of this year, the chair of the Neurological Alliance, Suzanne Dobson spoke to BBC Radio 5 about their survey which explored the patient experience of neurological services within the NHS. The Neurological Alliance first ran their survey in 2014 and then in 2016. A total of 7048 people living with neurological disorders took part in the latest survey, the results of which were released this year.

The Patient Experience of NHS Neurological Services in England

The new report from the Neurological Alliance named, Falling short – How has neurology patient experience changed since 2014? shows that the patient experience of neurology services is, ‘falling short of expectations’ and has in fact deteriorated across all key measures since the 2014 survey. These key measures include:

  • The percentage of patients seeing their GP five or more times before seeing a neurology specialist is up by 10.5%. A total of 23% of patients waited more than 12 months to see a neurological specialist after their first visit to a GP.
  • The percentage of neurological services described as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ is down from 47% to 41%.
  • The percentage of patients who were not offered a care plan is up from 72% to 82%.
  • The percentage of patients who feel involved in making choices about their care is down from 71% to 63%.

That the patient experience is deteriorating instead of improving is hardly surprising. There is a ‘national shortage of neurology consultants’, with one in five UK hospitals having ‘access to neurologists on three days a week or fewer’. A recent report from the Association of British Neurologists stated that the ‘likelihood of a patient with a neurological problem being seen by a neurologist continues to vary dramatically depending on where they are admitted’. This is despite the number of neurologists in the NHS increasing by 37% since 2010.

The People behind the Statistics

For every statistic, there is a patient and their family. As Suzanne Dobson of Neurological Alliance said, the effect of service gaps means that for some people, ‘they didn’t get treatment earlier enough and so bits of their conditions that may have been reversible, manageable, get worse during the period and they can’t get that back’. That is not to mention the anxiety and suffering that goes with a delayed diagnosis and treatment. Indeed, it is easy to find media stories about individual hardship arising from patchy or absent neurological services, especially given the fact that according to the Association of British Neurologists, six UK hospitals have ‘no acute neurology service at all’.

Calls for Improvement

It seems that the easy part is identifying the deficit in the NHS neurology services. It also seems that the hard part is to implement meaningful change. In 2015, a Public Accounts Committee report warned of the wide variation of neurology services in England. The Committee chair Meg Hillier said of the new report from Neurological Alliance, ‘Evidence shows […] that in 2012 the system wasn’t fit for purpose, that in 2015 it wasn’t and from the [latest] evidence […] it’s not got any better. In fact it looks like it’s going backwards’.

New Measures

A new National Neurology Advisory Group is being inaugurated to look into the problems of neurology services in the NHS. However, if it is to make any positive impact, the group must be properly resourced and its advice acted on. In addition, The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is drafting new advice on the management of neurological conditions, which is expected to be published at the end of January 2018. Let us hope that these measures make a difference so that the next survey from the Neurological Alliance can report an improvement, rather than deterioration in the NHS’s neurological services.

At Osbornes Law we care about how you are treated both by medical professionals at your GP surgery or at hospital and also under the care of private providers of health services. If you think that the care you or a loved one has received fell below the standards expected of a reasonably competent professional, then please do not hesitate to contact Partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer Stephanie Prior on 020 7681 8671.

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