A shortage of neurology staff in the NHS is preventing people with multiple sclerosis (MS) from accessing cutting-edge treatments, a charity has said. The MS Society said overstretched staff are unable to seek out patients who would benefit from the drugs because they are already struggling to maintain a core service.
The charity used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain NHS figures on how many patients had been given access to siponimod (brand name Mayzent) and ocrelizumab (brand name Ocrevus) – two of the only disease-modifying treatments available for progressive MS. It found the data suggests only about 1 in 10 of those eligible for siponimod and a third of those eligible for ocrelizumab have accessed the drugs since they were approved on the NHS, in 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Plea to 'Increase the Neurology Workforce'
Dr Waqar Rashid, consultant neurologist at St George’s Hospital in London, said: "It's concerning that workforce pressures are stopping siponimod and ocrelizumab reaching the vast majority of eligible patients.
"For many people with progressive MS, these treatments are the last hope they have of slowing down the progression of their condition.
"The longer it takes for them to get onto these treatments, the less chance they have of them being effective.
"Neurology services are severely overstretched, waiting lists are increasing and the situation is only getting worse.
"Busy healthcare professionals are struggling to maintain their current level of service, so there is simply not time to identify patients who could benefit from these new treatments.
"Often, people with progressive MS have been forgotten about and will not be known to a neurologist – adding more work to an already impossible workload.
"That’s why I’m joining the MS Society to urge the UK Government to increase the neurology workforce."
'Thousands Who Desperately Need These Treatments are Missing Out'
Jonathan Blades, head of campaigns at the MS Society, said: "Living with MS can be relentless, painful and disabling, but timely access to treatment can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.
"Over the years, our community has fought tirelessly for more treatment options for people with progressive MS.
"Now more options are available, it’s unacceptable that thousands who desperately need these treatments are missing out.
"For years, neurology services have been neglected, underfunded and deprioritised.
"We hear from people with progressive MS who haven’t even been able to speak to a neurologist in years, let alone be put on a new treatment.
"Everyone who’s eligible for siponimod or ocrelizumab should have the opportunity to access them, but to achieve this we need more neurologists."
This article contains information from PA Media