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More MS nurses needed for sustainable caseloads, says charity

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Around 25% more specialist multiple sclerosis nurses are required in the UK to provide a high quality service, according to a new charity report that supports people with the condition.

There are 234 whole time equivalent MS nurses working in the UK, but the MS Trust claims that around a third of the estimated 106,000 people with MS are living in areas where staff are dealing with caseloads more than twice the size considered sustainable.

The charity’s new report – entitled MS Specialist Nursing in the UK 2014: The case for equitable provision – calls for the creation of an additional 62 specialist nurses in the UK to provide a sustainable caseload ratio of 358 MS patients per whole time equivalent specialist nurse.

In particular, “significant shortfalls” of MS nurses have been identified in England and Scotland. In the Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral area, more than triple the number of specialist nurses is required, the report highlighted.

“Everyone with MS should have access to an MS nurse with a sustainable caseload”

Amy Bowen

Almost triple the number is needed in Mersyside.

Meanwhile, in the Leicestershire and Lincolnshire area, and also Lancashire, the workforce would need to more than double to ensure a sustainable caseload for each nurse, the report added.

Amy Bowen, director of service development at the MS Trust, said that high caseloads meant it was harder for staff to be proactive in managing patients, causing them to spend spending increasing amounts of time dealing with crises.

She said: “30,000 people with MS live in areas where their specialist MS nurses are dealing with caseloads more than twice the level considered sustainable for a high quality service. Even in areas where provision is at a better level, people with MS may still have to travel significant distances to reach services.”

Amy Bowen

Amy Bowen

Ms Bowen added: “Everyone with MS should have access to an MS nurse with a sustainable caseload and the MS Trust is providing commissioners and providers with the information they need to focus on improving care for people with MS in their area.”

The report was published today at the MS Trust’s annual conference.

It also included findings from a survey of 236 MS specialist nurses, which found more than a third in England and Wales, and nearly half in Scotland, had seen a reduction to the time available for training in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, 20 nurses – all based in England – reported that posts in their team had been down-banded in the past year and only three workers had seen posts upgraded.

Most nurses who reported that they had had vacancies in their teams in the past 12 months had seen these filled, stated the report.

“Overall, there is a mixed picture of how the NHS financial pressures are affecting MS specialist nurses,” said the report.

It added: ”There is case for cautious optimism around the number of posts, but an ongoing need to ensure that vital training time, post banding and coverage of maternity leave do not become casualties of the need to contain costs or introduce significant risk to service quality and safety.”

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