More than 5,000 people suffering from conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis are facing up to four-year delays for public hospital care.
Figures revealed by the Neurology Alliance of Ireland (NAI) show that the lengthy waits are occurring despite HSE attempts to beef up the nation’s neurological consultant numbers.
The NAI represents 30 neurological charities and 700,000 people across the country facing debilitating conditions. The group has previously warned of the dangers posed by lengthy treatment delays.
According to the group, 5,391 people have been waiting more than a year for outpatient neurology appointments with hospital consultants — the first stage in specialised treatment.
The figure, reported on irishhealth.com, includes 1,498 patients whose treatment has been delayed for at least three years despite the fact they are suffering from life-changing conditions
A further 1,147 have been waiting between two and three years for initial outpatient neurology consultant appointments, while 2,746 have seen their care delayed by between one and two years.
A HSE spokesperson confirmed the latest figures, adding that the system’s 2012 budget allowed for 13 additional posts, 11 neurology posts and two neurophysiologists to be appointed.
However, the NAI said that even with seven recent appointments, the current figure Was still in the low 30s, far below the target of 42 set out by health service management in 2004.
NAI spokeswoman Mags Rogers said Ireland’s neurological service levels lagged far behind the rest of Europe.
“We’ve no way of knowing if this is getting better or worse because the figures only started being published recently, but with conditions like these the biggest problem is losing time. With something like multiple sclerosis an early diagnosis can stop the condition in its tracks, and we are talking very debilitating conditions,” she said.
Ms Rogers told the Irish Examiner that while there may not be funds to employ more consultants, GPs should be encouraged to improve their neurological care knowledge as a stop- gap measure.
She said St Vincent’s Hospital-based consultant neurologist Professor Niall Tubridy recently began a direct link system to advise GPs on patient issues, as otherwise they faced “sending a letter and then another and then another” to get anything done.
To date this has not been rolled out elsewhere.
Similar patient concerns were raised by the NAI in its first nationwide survey on neurological care. The Feb 2011 report found 38% of patients waited over half a year for an initial diagnosis, with 58% saying reducing waits was the most important change they wanted to see happen.
Almost one in five people in Ireland have a neurolo-gical condition.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved