Monday, October 2, 2023

Neurological services struggling with backlog post-pandemic – survey

Research shows a lack of confidence that pent-up demand will be addressed

Almost half of family carers believe that essential neurological care services such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and neuropsychology have not returned to pre-Covid levels, new research shows.

A nationwide survey of nearly 200 people with neurological conditions and family carers found that all research participants did not have confidence that there will be capacity to address the backlog and pent-up demand post-pandemic as a result of the disruption to services.

According to the study by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI):

  • Respondents self-identifying as long Covid patients reported a critical lack of access to supports with 96 per cent unable to access neurorehabilitation services.
  • One-in-five people with a neurological condition had found it difficult to access an appointment with a consultant neurologist over the twelve months to August 2022, rising to one-in-four among family carer respondents. Fourteen per cent reported difficulty in accessing all services while one-in-ten respondents had resorted to purchasing services on a private basis because of the challenges in accessing care.
  • More than a third of respondents were very concerned that they would not be able to access essential services over the twelve months to September 2023 while nearly one-in-five family carers feared a deterioration in their family member’s neurological condition due to a lack of access to services.
  • More than half of family carers reported that access to consultant neurology and nurse specialist services had not returned to normal.

Interviews with clinicians working across neurological care services highlighted the lack of investment pre-Covid as a significant factor in the ability of services to respond to the backlog post-pandemic.

Demand for neurorehabilitation services, for example, has increased significantly due to the combined needs of patients who were discharged early and missed out on rehabilitation during the pandemic, those who deteriorated due to lockdown, and those requiring rehabilitation after long Covid.

“Long Covid is something we still know very little about, especially the long-term effects on the brain, but it is vital that we start to invest in these services now to prevent our neurology services from becoming completely overwhelmed,” Magdalen Rogers, Executive Director at the NAI, said. “Covid-19 has exposed the underdevelopment and lack of staffing across neurology services and the biggest impact will be felt by patients and their families.

“Longer waiting times and lack of access to essential services clearly emerge as issues from the survey findings. This is something we hope to see addressed in Budget 2024, with a fully staffed community neurorehabilitation team in each of the nine community healthcare organisations across Ireland. We are also calling for funding to expand the only dedicated neurology service for long Covid patients in St James’s Hospital.”

In response the NAI has made four key recommendations, which include a plan to address the capacity issues in neurology and neurorehabilitation services; engagement with voluntary providers; prioritising supports for long Covid patients with neurological needs; and targeted supports to address the mental health impact of the pandemic on people with neurological conditions and their families.

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