Neurology delays must be cut

Appeals have been made for emergency measures to cut patient waiting times for appointments with brain specialists at Altnagelvin hospital.

The calls came after the Western Trust admitted that it cannot cope with demand for appointments with consultant neurologists at Altnagelvin. Both urgent and routine cases have been caught up in the backlog.

A total of 846 patients are currently waiting up to 50 weeks for a first appointment while the target set for the Trust is just nine weeks. Some routine patients have waited more than a year to be seen by a consultant due to the backlog - which forced the Trust to implement a new target of 60 weeks in October of last year. The health body now hopes to reduce the target to 50 weeks by the end of March.

Patients deemed urgent are currently being seen “usually within nine weeks”, something which Derry’s SDLP Stormont Health Committee member Pól Callaghan branded “unacceptable”.

He said the long delays for neurology referrals at Altnagelvin are adding to the pressure on patients and families straining to cope with a range of illnesses.

He said the disclosure that routine neurology referrals are waiting up to 50 weeks for appointments had caused widespread disquiet.

“I have been contacted by people with suspected MS and other conditions and this news mirrors their story. For people with suspected Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, PSP, epilepsy and MS or the range of other neurological conditions, emotional strain is bad enough waiting for review without the added distress of very long delays. This also brings distress to their families and loved ones,” he said.

He said it was vital that the needs of patients in Derry are “properly addressed” and that appropriate resources are delivered to drastically reduce waiting times in neurology and meet projected demand.

He added that the people in Derry would be “perplexed” that additional outreach clinics have been funded in Enniskillen and not Altnagelvin hospital. “We owe it to the patients to take action,” he said.