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Groups campaigning for improved essential care for neurological patients across the Western Isles believe they have won support from Humza Yousaf Cabinet, Scotland's secretary for Health.

They say that for quite some time there has been a noticeable reduction is service provision for neurological patients in the Western Isles, and proposed changes to the neurological care provision model by the NHS Western Isles Health board have raised great concerns.

This is not only with individuals themselves suffering a neurological condition, but amongst third sector organisations and charities including Neuro Hebrides, MS Society Scotland, Parkinsons Scotland and Epilepsy Scotland.

There are proposed changes being implemented by NHS WI Health board that could have serious implications for the care and support of neurological patients in the Western Isles.

In the past, there was 1 full time MS nurse, 0.5FTE epilepsy nurse and a 0.8FTE Parkinson’s nurse. that is a total of 2.3 posts.

After the changes proposed by the health board, there will be 1.2FTE Advanced Neurology nursing posts and 0.8FTE Parkinson’s post – a total of 2 posts. Going from 2.3 to 2 is a reduction of service, and significantly there is not an MS Specialist nurse in the new model, the protesters say. 

There are currently 1171 patients in the Western Isles with a neurological condition, and this number is likely to rise as more people are diagnosed. This will mean a significant increase in demands from existing and new patients that the neurology nurses will have to cover.

In the past, 2.3 specialist nurses were already stretched with fewer patients – it’s not feasible to expect 2 nurses to cope with even more patients and diverse conditions/needs.

There are a number of treatment options for conditions such as Epilepsy, MS and Parkinson’s including 17 for MS alone. All of these treatments come with their own risk profiles and monitoring requirements. This requires detailed understanding on the part of the nurse to offer support in choosing the right treatment option and to monitor the progress of the treatment effectively to prevent an adverse reaction occurring.

Moving away from specialist nurse provision dilutes specialist knowledge across a range of very different conditions and medications.

No specialist neurology teams exist on the islands and there is not an MRI scan. People have to travel to Glasgow to see a neurologist, so specialist nurses are even more important than they are elsewhere in this rural Island setting to ensure patients receive the correct care.

On April 28, after the MS Society Scotlands prompting, Donald Cameron MSP asked the Cabinet Secretary for Health during general questions, about the reduction of specialist nursing support on the Islands. In response the Health Secretary said that he welcomed the question, sought to assure Donald with the health board line that there would be no reduction in service and offered to meet anyone who still had concerns.

On July 5, representatives of Neuro Hebrides, MS Scotland, Parkinsons Scotland and Epilepsy Scotland, met with Humza Yousaf. They say the meeting was constructive and positive. Third sector representatives put across their concerns about the reduction in service, safety implications and lack of service. Individuals representing Parkinsons Scotland and Neuro Hebrides, who themselves suffer from neurological conditions, then spoke about the detrimental affect the changes will have on their lives. These real life situations is what puts the gravity of these changes in to perspective and made such an impact.

Humza Yousaf said he was very appreciative of the groups work in bringing the situation to his attention and stated he was not happy about the lack of consultation by the Health Board and also stated that although the initial proposal had seemed a good way forward, he heard what we were saying about the value of the specialist MS nurse and acknowledged the move represented a cut in service.

He is investigating this issue further and he will be following up the meeting with outcomes in the near future.

Neuro Hebrides say they will continue to campaign on this issue on behalf of all neurological patients in the Western Isles, "and we will communicate any developments and news as and when we receive it."