New data from Public Health England (PHE) and the U.K. MS Society show that the number of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the United Kingdom is now more than 130,000 — about one in every 500 people living in the country. This is an increase of nearly 20% from previous estimates, which had put the figure at 109,000.
The estimate was calculated using 2018 patient information from a general practitioner database, and the new number is reflective of increases in the number of MS patients in all four nations of the U.K. Current estimations are 15,750 people with MS in Scotland, 5,600 in Wales, 105,450 in England, and 4,830 in Northern Ireland.
According to the U.K. MS Trust, this increase in the sheer number of people with MS does not necessarily mean that people are more likely to develop the disease. Actually, one of the primary factors driving this increase probably is that people with MS are living longer as treatment options get better. Another reason could be that people with the disease are being diagnosed earlier in life.
The number of new MS diagnoses per year (MS incidence) also is increasing — from an estimated 5,000 in 2017, to 6,700 in 2018. This increase in diagnosis rate is likely attributable to more sensitive diagnostic criteria.
This increase in MS prevalence and incidence in the U.K. puts additional demands on healthcare systems and MS services, which are already overstretched.
“Our research shows that around four in every five people with MS in the UK live in areas where there are not enough MS nurses to look after everyone,” David Martin, CEO of the MS Trust, said in a press release. “We calculate that around 115 new nurses are needed to ensure everyone living with MS can access the specialist support and care they need and deserve.”
Martin added that the new numbers confirm “that the need for better funded and better resourced MS specialist services across the whole of the UK is as pressing now as it ever was.”
The need for more clinical and emotional support to MS patients and their families also is reflected in the fact that, in 2019, the MS Trust registered an increase of 20% in the number of people calling its helpline.
According to Martin, while nonprofit organizations like the MS Trust are committed to provide the support they can to the MS community, this scenario also highlights the need for governmental support.
“The MS Trust is here for every single one of the 130,000; we’re committed to supporting them on every step of their MS journey, funding more MS nurses and providing vital information so they can live their lives to the fullest. But we’re urging the government and the NHS [National Health Service] to sit up and take notice too. It’s vital that nobody is left to manage MS alone,” Martin said.
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