Belfast Telegraph

Woman with multiple sclerosis who waited 15 months for appointment calls for action on waiting lists

Claire Espie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on St Patrick's Day 2018
Claire Espie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on St Patrick's Day 2018

By Gillian Halliday

A Lisburn woman with multiple sclerosis who waited 15 months for her first appointment with a neurologist has called for swift action to tackle waiting lists.

Claire Espie (34) was diagnosed with the incurable condition on St Patrick’s Day last year - more than a year and half after she was referred to neurology services by her GP.

This week it was revealed the number of people waiting for an initial neurology services appointment - which covers conditions like strokes and acquired brain injuries - here has more than doubled over the past four years.

More than 19,000 people are waiting for an appointment, up from 9,123 patients in March 2015, according to the Department of Health which published the figures as part of a review into neurology services.

There are also more than 11,000 patients waiting more than one year to be seen, with over half of that figure (5,816) waiting more than two years.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the training co-ordinator said the impact of lengthy waits are adversely affecting MS sufferers.

“It’s really frustrating. I feel that there isn’t enough neurologists, there’s not enough MS nurses,” explained Claire.

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“Something needs to be done. It’s not the fault of the doctors, the neurologists. It’s just under-resourced.”

“I had been having symptoms for years, and had really bad fatigue. When I went to the GP, I was misdiagnosed with B12 vitamin deficiency.”

She was later referred to neurologist when she started experiencing other symptoms, such as numbness. She waited 15 months for her first appointment.

 “I’m an optimistic person so at the time I wasn’t all that worried. That year and a bit waiting wasn’t that stressful,” recalled Claire.

“Once I got that appointment (the consultant) mentioned the possibility of MS, and I hadn’t thought it about before.

“I had then to wait for a MRI scan for two months. It was bad. I think the stress of even the suggestion of it being MS put me in a relapse.”

When she finally received the diagnosis, the news was like “being hit by a truck” and that’s why, she stressed, it is crucial waiting lists are reduced.

“I know my symptoms and relapses are definitely connected to stress. One of the worse was when I got the news of my diagnosis,” she revealed.

MS Society NI director, David Galloway, stressed that delays in diagnosis or treatment have “long term consequences” for those with the condition.

“When it comes to MS, waiting is a delay to diagnosis and a delay to treatment.  Everything we know about MS tells us about the importance of early treatment,” he said.

The Health and Social Care Board is attempting to secure funding for additional training places for junior doctors in neurology.

The department’s review noted there are “insufficient consultant neurologists to deliver a 24/7 on call rota on any site other than the Royal Victoria Hospital”.

It also identified there are “significant challenges” in the number of training places attached to neurology services. 

It added that progress has been made to improve support next year, including “maintaining the existing number of specialist registrar places for training, funding an additional one year placement to promote the specialty and supporting additional doctors wanting to improve their skills and knowledge in the specialty.”

The full review is to be published next March.

SDLP Deputy Leader Nichola Mallon said yesterday the pressures on neurology services had been exacerbated by the ongoing patient recall.

Last year it emerged that around 3,500 patients of consultant neurologist Dr Michael Watt were to be recalled over fears they had been misdiagnosed.

A hearing into the actions of Dr Watt has been delayed until next year.

The North Belfast MLA said those accessing the services “deserve better” than prolonged periods of worry.

“That’s the cruel reality for over 11,000 people who understand the seriousness of their condition and desperately want to be seen and treated as quickly as possible,” she explained.

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