Neurology Waiting List Doubles In Four Years

The number of people waiting for their first neurology appointment has more than doubled in the last four years, it's been revealed.

A disparity in the high capacity for face to face neurological assessments and current referral numbers was made clear in an interim report on the Department of Health's review of neurology services.

While 9,123 patients were waiting to be seen in March 2015, this figure grew to 19,376 in March of this year.

Meanwhile, 11,249 patients have currently been left waiting over one year for a first appointment, with 5,816 of those waiting over two.

Neurological conditions include epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and motor neurone disease.

Publishing the figures, the Department of Health identified staff shortages across the neurology workforce as a contributing factor. With 21 Consultant Neurologists currently in post, three of whom work on a part-time basis, there is insufficient cover to deliver a 24/7 on-call rota at any other site than the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

Compounding these shortages, there are also significant challenges in developing expertise in neurology among trainees. For example, of 138 core training places, a maximum of two will be attached to neurology.

Securing additional funding for training places has been identified as one of the short-term priorities within the review, in a bid to tackle the growing demand and pressures on neurology care.
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The SDLP said the "unacceptable" waiting times make for worried patients and overworked staff, at a time when the service is dealing with the biggest patient recall in history.

Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon said: "Neurology patients, people living with conditions like Parkinson's disease, Motor Neurone disease or multiple sclerosis, should not be forced to endure the pain, worry and uncertainty of waiting over a year to be seen. That's the cruel reality for over 11,000 people who understand the seriousness of their condition and desperately want to be seen and treated as quickly as possible.

"We have had reviews of neurology services before. I have no doubt that the final report will reach similar conclusions with similar recommendations. They cannot be allowed to sit on a shelf gathering dust while real people suffer on hospital waiting lists. This is a scandal and we all have to commit to addressing it."

Meanwhile, Alliance branded the "disgraceful" figures as the latest example of people paying for others' political irresponsibility.

South Belfast MLA Paula Bradshaw highlighted the developing "two-tier" system, with those who can afford it getting quick diagnoses and treatment, while others are left to worry for over a year.

"This is now a dysfunctional system," the party's Health spokesperson said.

"We must never stop being shocked by figures such as these, which are unacceptable and show a decline in planning for the future, going back many years. It is time for comprehensive transformation or there simply will not be a public health service for the next generation - and it is time those with the big mandates took responsibility for delivery of it."


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