Peers support our call for a national recovery plan as waiting times soar
Over 10,000 people have been waiting for over a year for neurology or neurosurgery appointments, recent data analysed by the Neurological Alliance has shown. The news comes following a debate in the House of Lords on the impacts of the pandemic on people with neurological conditions and services.
The Neurological Alliance has analysed data released by NHS England and NHS Improvement. At the end of March 2021, more than 150,000 people were waiting for a neurology appointment and more than 60,000 people were waiting for a neurosurgery appointment. Of these 210,000, over 10,000 people have been waiting for over a year*.
This is in stark contrast to data from February 2020, prior to the UK wide lockdown. At this point, and according to the same data, 38 people had been waiting for more than a year for a neurology appointment and 169 had been waiting for a neurosurgery appointment for more than a year.
At the same time referrals to neurology services have dipped in many areas and some services have minimised the number of referrals they accept, focussing on the most urgent cases as capacity has been stretched during the pandemic.
Waiting for an appointment can mean waiting more than a year for a diagnosis or to start a potentially life-changing treatment.
For example, specialist Motor Neurone Disease centres saw a 30-50% reduction in referrals in 2020. Without access to specialist expertise patients cannot receive a confirmed diagnosis and begin accessing treatment and support for this complex and often rapidly progressive condition. In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), delayed diagnosis could mean a delay to access treatments which could slow or even stop the progression of the condition.
Just the tip of the iceberg – a clear recovery strategy is required
Georgina Carr, Chief Executive of the Neurological Alliance, said:
“The impact of the pandemic on people with neurological conditions has been enormous and these waiting times are another clear indication of that. Thousands of people are being left in the dark waiting for support, whilst their condition may be changing or even progressing. Many health and care professionals are overstretched and need support themselves.
This is just the tip of the iceberg – the long impact of delays and disruptions to care will be felt for years to come.
In the short term, the Government must work with NHS England and NHS Improvement, commissioners, healthcare professionals, professional bodies and patient groups to ensure that services are restored to their pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible.
In the longer term, NHS England and NHS Improvement should lead a national plan for neurology. The funded plan should seek to address longstanding and immediate issues identified across services including workforce shortages, lack of integration of mental health and neurology services and tackle longstanding health inequalities facing people with neurological conditions.”
During the debate in the House of Lords last week, peers supported our call and that of the National Neuroscience Advisory Group (NNAG) for Government to set out a clear plan for recovery of services.
In response, Baroness Penn, who was representing the Government as Baroness in Waiting, confirmed that NHS England and NHS Improvement will be considering the National Neuroscience Advisory Group’s recommendations as part of its ongoing recovery and restoration work and the future transformation of neurological services. The Alliance will be following up with NHS England and NHS Improvement on this commitment.
*The Neurological Alliance analysed NHS England and NHS Improvement referral to treatment data for March 2021. This analysis includes all pathways, including incomplete, complete and DTA, and includes both NHS and independent providers. Please note some other sources of data use incomplete and NHS providers only.