Over 800,000 people in Ireland are living with neurological conditions, however neurology services are totally underequipped to deal with these patients, the Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI) has warned.
Neurological conditions include migraine, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. According to the NAI, decades of underinvestment has resulted in Ireland having the lowest ratio of consultant neurologists per head of population in the developed world and services are now at breaking point.
Recommendations from the Association of British Neurologists state that every country should have one neurologist per 70,000 people. However this recommended ratio is exceeded within every hospital group in Ireland. In the mid west, there is just one consultant for every 200,000 people.
Ireland also has less than half the recommended number of MS nurses and less than a third of the recommended number of specialist nurses for Parkinson's disease.
The NAI pointed to a survey it carried out last year of over 200 users of outpatient neurology services, which revealed that 20% had been waiting for more than six months between the time they were referred by their GP to when they saw a neurologist for the first time, while around 10% had been waiting for more than one year.
Meanwhile, figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund showed that at the end of 2017, over 19,000 people were waiting for a first neurology appointment. Some 6,000 of these were waiting more than 12 months, while 3,500 were waiting more than 18 months.
"We have improved access to neurology via the Neurology Programme - about twice as many patients are seen now compared to six or seven years ago. However, the waiting list is about the same because more people are appropriately referred and we are unable to meet the demand.
"There is an urgent need to implement the Model of Care for Neurology that is with the HSE, Department of Health and Government for the last two years," commented Prof Tim Lynch, clinical lead for the National Neurology Programme.
As part of National Brain Awareness Week (March 5-11), the NAI has launched a campaign, ‘Invest in Neurology', which is calling on the Government to invest in neurology centres nationwide, improve access to crucial tests such as MRIs, and tackle the unacceptable staffing deficits.
The NAI is calling on members of the public to lobby their local TDs about this issue. For more information on how to do this, click here