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New NICE guidelines about suspected neurological conditions

Neurological conditions can be extremely serious and in some circumstances, life changing.

Neurological conditions affect the brain, spinal cord, muscles or nerves and some of the more commonly known examples include muscular dystrophy, cerebal palsy and epilepsy.

According to the Royal College of Physicians, neurological conditions account for about 1 in 10 GP consultations, around 10% of emergency admissions (excluding stroke) and result in disability for 1 in 50 of the UK population.  Those figures make for stark reading given the potential severity of the conditions.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides national guidance to be used by the NHS, local authorities, employers, voluntary groups and anyone else involved in delivering care or promoting wellbeing. This month NICE have produced guidance about which symptoms and signs should prompt a referral for a neurological assessment.

As specialists in spinal injury claims we are often approached by clients who feel let down because they have repeatedly attended their GP or repeatedly attended their local A&E with symptoms only to be eventually diagnosed with a life changing condition. Indeed a recent survey by the Neurological Alliance found that nearly a third of respondents had to see their GP five or more times about the health problems caused by their condition, before being referred to a neurological specialist. It also found that around 40% of respondents waited more than a year from when they first noticed their symptoms to seeing a specialist.

Understandably people will question why their condition wasn’t picked up earlier and whether their life would be different if it had. Sadly the answer on some occasions is that conditions are missed and that early referral would have made a difference.

The latest guidelines produced by NICE aim to make a difference to anyone who might have a neurological condition by making sure that GPs can recognise when symptoms could have a neurological cause. They aim to ensure that GPs and doctors in A&E know when to refer people to a specialist straight away and to ensure that when people need to see a specialist they see one sooner. Of equal importance given the limited resources available within the NHS, the guidance also seeks to ensure that people who do not need to see a specialist are not referred unnecessarily.

Doctors such as GPs and A&E staff cannot generally be expected to diagnose neurological conditions. There may be exceptions where a patient’s presentation is obvious but this is not always the case.  Outside the obvious their role is an important one as they are the gateway to vital specialist treatment. The reality is that unless patients are prepared to pay privately then access to a specialist on the NHS must come about by way of referral and at times that referral must be made promptly, sometimes urgently, to guarantee the best possible outcome for the patient. The fact that these guidelines will aid in that outcome means they make for welcome reading and hopefully an improvement in patient care.

Victoria Oliver is an associate solicitor in the Spinal Injuries team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you or a loved one have suffered a spinal injury as a result of result of an accident, someone else’s negligence or you are concerned about the treatment you have received contact Victoria in confidence on 020 3973 5002 or at victoriaoliver@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors from the Spinal Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Spinal Injury team.

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