Page last updated at 06:10 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 07:10 UK

MS guidelines 'are being missed'

Multiple sclerosis patient
Some MS patients may not be getting best care

The NHS is failing to meet national guidelines issued five years ago to improve the diagnosis and care of people with multiple sclerosis.

An audit of services in England and Wales found long waits for diagnosis, poor care, and rehabilitation services available to only a third of patients.

The MS Trust, which helped carry out the survey, said any good treatment for MS was a "geographical accident".

Ministers said the recent Darzi review of the NHS would improve services.

It seems incredible that after five years we are no nearer to commissioning the full range of services that MS patients need and deserve
Professor Ian Gilmore
Royal College of Physicians

MS is an incurable neurological condition which affects approximately 85,000 people in the UK, most of whom are women.

It produces symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, bladder and bowel problems and difficulty walking.

In 2003, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published guidelines telling hospitals and primary care trusts in England and Wales how to care for people with the disease.

The latest audit, including a survey of more than 1,000 patients, alongside hospitals, primary care trusts and strategic health authorities suggests that this "best practice" is not yet being followed.

Half of all patients answering the survey who were newly-diagnosed had waited more than 20 weeks from referral from their GP for their diagnosis.

In addition, only 36% of patients had access to neurological rehabilitation services, which can help them control and manage their symptoms, and reduce their level of disability.

Of the people surveyed, 6% had in the past year developed a skin pressure ulcer, a "completely preventable" condition linked to sitting or lying in one position.

The MS Trust, alongside the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which co-authored the audit, called for more rehabilitation services to be commissioned by primary care trusts, and for all NHS organisations to have one person nominated to help shape services for people with long-term neurological conditions.

'Basic services'

Professor Ian Gilmore, from the RCP, said: "It seems incredible that after five years we are no nearer to commissioning the full range of services that MS patients need and deserve."

Christine Jones from the MS Trust, added: "If you have MS and access to the services you need, you are in a fortunate position - unfortunately it is still a matter of geographical accident.

"The postcode lottery is about basic services - continence, prevention of pressure sores, being assessed for the right wheelchair if you need it, and pain relief."

Simon Gillespie, of the MS Society, said: "It is vital that health services are held to account and this latest audit confirms what our 40,000 members tell us - people with MS need access to more and better care."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the review by Lord Darzi, published last week, would help imporve services for patients with MS.

He said: "We are committed to improving services for people with long-term neurological conditions.

"Local organisations are already working together to ensure that services for people with all long term conditions, including multiple sclerosis, are tailored to meet their individual healthcare needs."


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