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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 11:06 GMT
Epilepsy diagnosis warning
Brain scan
Epilepsy is a brain disorder
A national expert in child epilepsy claims wrong diagnoses are being made because there are too few consultants who specialise in the condition.

The BBC has learned that many areas are without regular visiting clinics by paediatric neurologists.

A survey carried out by the British Paediatric Neurologist Association (BNPA) found that one in seven hospitals do not have a visiting clinic because of a lack of consultants.

It is very complicated, it is very difficult to diagnose

Vicky McNabb
It highlights the Midlands, Yorkshire, the South West and Scotland as the worst affected areas.

The BPNA carried out the survey in the wake of the incorrect treatment given to scores of children at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

The hospital admitted last year that 170 children who were patients of paediatric neurologist Dr Andrew Holton were either mis-diagnosed or over-prescribed anti-epilepsy drugs.

An independent review found that Dr Holton had not had enough training and worked in isolation.

As a result it was recommended that districts without direct specialist help should be identified to prevent a similar mix-up happening again.

Margaret Thomas, of the National Society for Epilepsy (NSE), said: "It's not just in paediatrics, it's across the board. There are not enough neurologists, whether for children or adults.

"We welcome anything that can be done to put pressure to address the issue."

One child a week

Dr Richard Appleton, a national expert on epilepsy from Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, claims a lack of specialist staff means that wrong diagnoses are still being made.

Dr Appleton says he sees around one child a week who has been wrongly diagnosed because of a lack of consultants.

One in 130 people suffer from epilepsy, and 1,000, mainly young adults die from the condition every year.

But there are less than 70 paediatric neurologists in the UK.

The BPNA says there should be at least twice that.

Vicky McNabb's three-year-old daughter Lucy has been diagnosed as having a severe form of epilepsy after first being told it was a different type.

She said: "There is a desperate need for consultants, not just neurologists, but neurologists who are specially interested in epilepsy.

"It is very complicated, it is very difficult to diagnose. There are some very rare forms of epilepsy."

Last year the Chief Medical Officer's annual report described a serious failure to act by successive governments to improve epilepsy services.

Research by the Institute of Neurology published in November found that one in five people in the UK who are newly diagnosed with epilepsy will not receive adequate treatment.

The Department of Health admits serious weaknesses in standards of care for epilepsy and says clinical guidelines to improve diagnosis and treatment are being produced.

The BBC's Sarah Sturdey
"The Department of Health has admitted serious and long-standing weaknesses"
Cathy Bairstow, British Epilespy Association
"We need to have more doctors trained"
See also:

18 Oct 01 | Health
New epilepsy patients 'failed'
29 Nov 01 | England
Hospital admits epilepsy errors
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