NHS services for multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers have barely improved at all in the past five years, a report has revealed.
Basic symptoms such as pain, fatigue and problems with cognition are not well treated, the findings suggested.
And guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for the management of patients with the condition are no closer to being met now than when they were launched in 2003, according to a national audit of MS services.
The audit, conducted by the Royal College of Physicians and the MS Trust, also found that a third of NHS trusts had no plans to improve neurological services in the next year.
Most were giving insufficient attention to joining up services across the NHS or with social care, results showed.
Less than two thirds of MS patients (64%) reported that sharing information between health organisations made transfer of care easy, compared with 67% in the previous audit.
Less than three quarters (69%) meanwhile said assessment of “hidden” symptoms like fatigue, depression, cognitive or sexual impairment and bladder control were both sensitive and thorough.
This figure was largely unchanged from the previous audit, when the proportion was 67%.
The MS Trust expressed concern about the findings.
The charity’s chief executive Pam Macfarlane said: “People with MS have complex needs that rely on well co-ordinated health and social care services.
“Despite a culture of targets and increases in spending in the past 10 years there has been little progress in this area.
“With huge changes in commissioning and squeezed budgets there is no evidence that things are going to improve and we are extremely worried about the future for the services that people with MS depend upon.”
Professor Derick Wade, associate director of the audit, argued that the planned changes to the way health services are commissioned provided “a unique opportunity to improve the planning, commissioning and provision of services for MS patients”.
But he warned: “We must not repeat the mistakes and inertia of the past eight years - we must move forward, identifying where services are deficient and making them better.
“In particular, we believe there is an opportunity for increased collaboration between different healthcare organisations and between health and social services. MS patients deserve a better future.”
More than 100,000 people in the UK are said to have MS, a disease that affects the central nervous system.
There is currently no cure but the symptoms can be treated.
The audit, which took in MS patients, GPs, hospitals, NHS trusts and strategic health authorities, was the third audit of MS services provided by the NHS since 2003.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “This is exactly why we need to modernise the NHS. Support for people with long-term neurological conditions has not been good enough.
“Our plans put patients firmly in the driving seat with more control over their care and give clinicians the freedom to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate.
“Improving commissioning and more integrated services are key to ensuring better care for patients.”