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Warning over 'dangerous' lack of MS specialist nurses

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A “dangerous” lack of specialist nurses has led to around 68,000 people with multiple sclerosis living in regions where MS nurse caseloads exceed recommended levels, a charity has warned.

According to new research by the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, 64% of people with the condition are based in regions where MS nurses have larger caseloads than the charity’s recommended figure of 358 people per whole time equivalent (WTE) specialist nurse.

“The dangerous lack of specialist nurses can have grave consequences for people with MS”

Amy Bowen

More than 25,000 people with condition live in the worst areas, where caseloads are more than double the recommended level.

Meanwhile, a quarter of MS specialist nurse team leads in England said they had received regular requests to work on inpatient wards in the past year due to reasons including winter pressures and staff shortages. The charity warned this was disruptive for the service and could mean appointments were being missed.

Areas with the lowest numbers of MS nurses are North West England, London, Southern Scotland, Leicestershire, North Wales, Teeside and West Yorkshire, according to a report published by the charity today.

The situation has slightly improved since two years ago when the charity last carried out its snapshot survey of all UK MS nursing teams, with a 12% increase in WTE posts – from 216 in 2014 to 241 in 2016.

In addition, there are more MS nurses working at higher pay bands in the NHS – with 24 at band 8 on the Agenda for Change payscale in 2016, compared with 18 in 2014.

There was no evidence of posts being downgraded despite pressure on NHS finances, said the report.

However, the charity noted it was “disappointing” that more than a quarter of MS specialist nurses had no administrative support within teams, which the charity described as “vitally important” due to the complexity of scheduling the delivery and monitoring of disease modifying drugs.

To help tackle the staff shortage, the MS Trust intends to fund the training of three new MS nurses in 2017, with plans to invest more in the coming years.

It has also launched a new campaign – #No1alone – to raise awareness about the need to train more MS nurses in areas of the UK with the greatest shortages.

Amy Bowen

Amy Bowen

Amy Bowen

Amy Bowen, director of service development at the MS Trust and a nurse by background, said: “We believe that MS nurses play a vital role in helping people deal with the shock of diagnosis and can help them adjust to, and manage, a full life with MS.”

“The dangerous lack of specialist nurses can have grave consequences for people with MS,” she said. “They may have to rely on non-specialist support for what is a highly complex disease. And they may have to resort to using A&E services if their symptoms become worse.” 

“As we know, the NHS is coming under increasing strain, and MS specialist services are often not a priority. That’s why the MS Trust is stepping up to the plate with our #No1alone campaign,” she added.

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