There is a "chronic lack" of specialist healthcare services available to people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in Ireland, a new index has revealed.
MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system, which causes a gradual degeneration of the nerves. This results in a progressive deterioration in various functions controlled by the nervous system, such as vision, speech and movement.
Around 2.5 million people worldwide are affected, including 9,000 people in Ireland.
The FutureProofing Healthcare MS Index focused on the treatment of MS across 30 countries in Europe. Overall, Ireland was ranked 22nd out of the 30 countries, largely due to a major lack of specialist services and healthcare specialists, such as neurologists, physiotherapists and psychologists.
When it came to diagnosis and outcomes, Ireland was found to have performed worse than 24 other European countries. A number of measures led to this poor score, including the severe shortage of consultant neurologists per capita here, and the low number of MRI units available.
While Ireland performed moderately well on outcomes, the index noted that just one-quarter of people with MS here are currently working.
When it came to support and management, Ireland again lagged behind most other European countries. This was due to a number of issues, such as a lack of access to rehabilitation services and a shortage of healthcare professionals.
In fact, Ireland ranked 29 out of 30 when it came to access to rehabilitation services.
In the area of daily living, Ireland ranked 21st out of 30. This was based on measures such as the cost of housing, disability benefits and the availability of flexible working conditions.
The index found that the length of statutory sick pay is relatively short in Ireland and the level of disability benefits are relatively low.
Commenting on the findings, MS Ireland's CEO, Ava Battles, said that Ireland's poor performance in the index is "unsurprising due to the chronic lack of specialist services available to people living with MS in this country".
"Ireland has two neurologists per 100,000 people, which along with the UK, is the lowest seen across all 30 countries. There is also no rehabilitation centre available for people with MS in Ireland.
"However, it's also clear from analysing the index findings that there is a severe lack of data available at national or European level, to allow us to get an accurate picture of the state of care for people living with MS. That is something that needs to be addressed, potentially through a patient register, similar to that which we have for other disease areas such as the National Cancer Registry," she commented.
For more information on the index's results in relation to Ireland, click here.
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