Belfast Telegraph

Possible MS sufferer facing two-year wait for an appointment

A Northern Ireland woman has spoken of her frustration at a potential two-year wait for treatment after being diagnosed with a suspected case of multiple sclerosis (MS).

After suffering with health problems over the past five years, things were brought to a head for 24-year-old Kerri Ann Flanagan, from Newtownabbey, after going blind in one eye at the start of May.

Speaking on Radio Ulster's Nolan Show, she said once this happened she went into MS casualty in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, which is when "the ball started rolling with the MS diagnosis".

Kerri Ann was hospitalised for five days as a result of the incident, with hospital staff trying every day to have her seen by an on-call neurologist - efforts which came to no avail.

After leaving hospital she received an MRI scan, but was left to "fight and follow and chase" to access the report on the scan, with it being passed to her GP after more than a month.

The average waiting time for a non-urgent, routine appointment to see a neurologist in the Belfast Trust is 23 months - meaning it could be more than two years before Kerri Ann starts treatment.

The major delay is symptomatic of huge pressure across the health service, with patients facing lengthy and potentially hazardous waits for consultant-led outpatient appointments.

"I think it’s a disgrace, I think it’s an absolute disgrace," she said.

"Not only have me and my family had to deal with the prospect of me having MS, and how that could affect my entire life.

"That’s stressful enough. But the idea I won’t even be seen, never mind start treatment, in a year. It just seems unbelievable to me really. I’m not the only person in this situation. It’s not right."

Speaking on the programme, GP Dr George O'Neill said big delays were an issue "right across the service" and throughout his career there had always been a shortage of neurologists.

"I would hope that lady would be seen within five to six months, is the time limit for suspected MS," he said.

"But that is no help to her. Where I sit I can look at similar problems in orthopaedics, gynaecology, ophthalmology, dermatology - I could go on and on and on."

The most recent figures released by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland show just under one-third of patients (83,392) in Northern Ireland wait more than a year for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

The Belfast Trust recorded the highest share of patients waiting more than 52 weeks at 34.3% of the total (32,218).

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: "“Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases we can confirm that the average wait time for routine Neurology appointments in the Belfast Trust is  currently 23 months.”

“Across Northern Ireland there is a shortage of Neurology Consultants for this complex and high demand service, so demand is outstripping capacity.”

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