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Epilepsy care in Wales faces ‘woefully short’ staffing levels – charity warns

04 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Jan Paterson, Wales manager at Epilepsy Action Cymru

Emily Price

More than six months since a motion was passed in the Senedd to reduce waiting times for epilepsy patients, a charity has called another meeting with MSs to demand quicker action.

Epilepsy Action Cymru has warned that epilepsy care in Wales faces “woefully short” staffing levels with less than half the number of specialist nurses required currently in post.

The charity says accessing epilepsy care in Wales has become a postcode lottery due to ongoing inconsistencies in the way neurology services are rolled out.

Amid short nationwide staffing levels, some rural areas have little to no dedicated provision in place at all.

MSs, clinicians and patients gathered at a meeting arranged by Epilepsy Action Cymru in Cardiff Bay to urge the Welsh Government to improve on current levels of support for the more than 30,000 people with epilepsy in Wales – some of whom are having to wait a year or more to see a neurologist.

The charity is campaigning for more Epilepsy Specialist Nurses (ESNs) to be appointed and has introduced a new counselling service to help people living with epilepsy and their loved ones cope emotionally with the challenges they are facing.

Epilepsy patient Becci Smart, who lives in Swansea, told the gathering about difficulties she had faced in accessing transport to hospital appointments.

Seizures

Becci, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy at the age of 18, said: “My seizures have never been fully controlled and it has had an impact on almost every area of my life, from starting a family, to learning to drive, to finding meaningful employment.

“I’ve been turned down for jobs I am more than qualified to do multiple times because of my epilepsy, and not letting it stop me achieving my goals in life is a daily challenge for me.

“My family has also been severely affected, and we’ve had some really traumatic experiences as parents to a child born with health difficulties caused by the epilepsy medication I have to take, alongside the loss of two other children as a result.

“The challenges I face in living life with epilepsy are as emotional as they are physical, and I cannot stress how vital providing extra support to help people with epilepsy in Wales live safer, freer lives would be.”

In response to the motion put forward by Luke Fletcher MS, and passed in the Senedd in July 2023, Health Minister Eluned Morgan mentioned both the Wales Seizure and Epilepsy Management Pathway, and the National Epilepsy Dashboard, as key aspects of the Welsh Government’s efforts to improve epilepsy services.

However, according to new research carried out by Epilepsy Action Wales, less than one in five people with epilepsy in Wales (18%) are even aware the pathway exists.

43% are not getting referred to any specialist service following a seizure, and only a third (34%) are receiving any kind of patient information following an appointment.

The charity says less than half the number of specialist nurses required to meet the needs of the population are currently being employed in almost all health board areas.

There is no dedicated neurology service at all in Powys or Cwm Taf.

Challenges

Jan Paterson, Wales manager at Epilepsy Action Cymru, said: “We appreciate that the NHS is facing a great many challenges and while it’s been encouraging to hear that the Welsh Government is taking steps to improve the availability of epilepsy services moving forward, what we’re hearing from those living with epilepsy is that things aren’t moving anywhere near as quickly as they need to be.

“A lot of people probably don’t realise that Wales has a higher rate of incidence of epilepsy than the rest of the UK, with 55 new cases per 100,000 people coming through each year compared to 37 in England.

“NICE guidelines meanwhile recommend a waiting time of no longer than two weeks for patients with a suspected first seizure, which are nowhere near being met by any of the seven health boards operating across Wales either.

“We are therefore calling on the Welsh Department for Health to actively support the provision of more ESNs across Wales, alongside the widespread implementation of an ‘Epilepsy Service Co-ordinator’ task force that can support the adoption of a best practice ‘Open Access’ model currently also only put into practice by four out of the seven health boards involved, according to our research.”

Plaid Cymru MS, Luke Fletcher MS, who tabled his previous motion with cross-party support from 15 other Senedd Members, said: “Epilepsy Action Cymru’s research reveals a distressing reality for those managing epilepsy in Wales.

“Wales has the highest rates of incidence of epilepsy in the UK, and the extremely low specialist availability, regional discrepancies in services, and lack of investment in epilepsy resources serves only to compound the situations of those living with epilepsy in Wales.

“Historic underinvestment in epilepsy services is especially alarming when considering its prevalence in Wales compared to other UK nations.

“Waiting times for even routine appointments remain troublingly high. We cannot overlook this any longer.

“While we acknowledge that the Welsh Government are taking some positive steps to drive forward necessary improvements, things are still slow to change. Our calls to address gaps in access to services and lengthy waiting times remain. People with epilepsy must get the urgent support they need.”

Support

Epilepsy Action Cymru launched its own counselling service in May 2023 to support adults over 18 living in Wales and affected by epilepsy, including parents and carers, which offers up to eight weeks of counselling online or over the phone, completely free of charge.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are aware of some concerns about epilepsy services across Wales and have had discussions with Epilepsy Action Cymru and health boards about making improvements.

“We expect health boards to improve services to meet the aims and standards set out in our quality statement for neurological services, including epilepsy.

“Since April last year, the new NHS Wales Executive started work on developing Strategic Clinical Networks. The Neurological Conditions Strategic Clinical Network and a new clinical lead will be appointed shortly to support health boards with improvements in services.”


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Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
23 days ago

Everything is worse, but not just in Wales, Funds are not spent where they need to be. Much of NHS funding goes to ‘Management ‘ and their pet schemes, therefore we have a shortage of medical personnel. I was recently in hospital for a serious complaint which took so long to diagnose I was at deaths door. offered ‘Do not resuscitate’ I was so ill! Reason given I was not ‘presenting with the usual issues for my condition, One Ward I was on was filthy, dirty unclean bathrooms with sanitary pads discarded on floor for days, Food offered was atrocious,… Read more »

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