Few resources leads to lack of epilepsy treatment

By Evelyn Ring

EPILEPSY sufferers cannot benefit from new treatments because of a lack of resources, a senior neurologist and epilepsy expert claimed yesterday.

Dr Norman Delanty, a consultant neurologist and epileptologist at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, believes there may be as many as 40,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland and many more who have just one seizure during the course of their lifetime.

Epilepsy is very treatable and there have been great advances made in the way the condition is managed in the past 10 years. Many of the treatments have far less side effects.

Dr Delanty pointed out that in the past decade alone six new drugs had been approved and released onto the Irish market for the treatment of epilepsy and seizures. Another drug was due to be released next year. All the drugs have fewer side effects than those traditionally used to treat epilepsy.

"The aim of all the treatments is to abolish seizures without causing significant side effects that interfere with the quality of life of the individual," said Dr Delanty.

Many people with epilepsy can lead a normal life with proper treatment but a high percentage of the conventional treatments used to treat epilepsy have unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness, blurred vision and interference with a person's cognisance. Some of the drugs can also cause behavioural problems in children.

Mike Glynn, chief executive of Brainwave - the Irish Epilepsy Association, said there were only 11 consultant neurologists in the Republic, which is less than a third of the European average. There are no consultant neurologists outside Cork, Dublin and Galway.

Mr Glynn said, "Most people with epilepsy have had their condition dealt with by GPs for most of their lives and may never have seen a neurologist. The more enlightened GPs would prefer to refer patients on for a specialist consultation but they know it is going to take years or involve a lot of travel difficulties."

There is also a severe shortage of neurophysiologists who run tests on patients seen by the consultants. The number of neurophysiologists had been reduced from three to two. Mr Glynn said there was no sign of the third one being replaced. Nine neurophysiologists would have to be appointed to meet the British average.

"Even if somebody might get a consultation with a neurologist there would be a further delay if he or she was to be referred onto a neurophysiologist for tests," said Mr Glynn.

Brainwave has also been calling for the appointment of epilepsy specialist nurses in the community. One has been promised for the eastern region but no action has yet been taken to fill the position. Epilepsy nurses have made a huge difference to sufferers in other European countries.