UK Health Services Failing MS Patient Needs Under Pandemic, Survey Finds

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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UK healthcare survey

A vast majority — 7 out of every 10 — healthcare professionals working with multiple sclerosis (MS) patients across the U.K. believe health services are failing to meet their needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an online survey conducted by the MS Society and the MS Trust.

The survey, which ran June 2–21, gathered opinions from 181 MS professionals, including nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and service managers. Most respondents were from England, followed by Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

Nearly three quarters (73%) felt rehabilitation services were the most common type of MS care to be canceled, delayed, or limited during the outbreak, and 76% said restoring these services back to pre-pandemic capacity should be a priority.

However, more than half (67%) did not known when such services would return to prior capacity, while 18% expected a wait of at least seven weeks.

“Many people with MS rely on rehabilitation to manage their chronic symptoms, stay active and maintain their independence. Such services, especially face-to-face care, have understandably been limited or cancelled to protect people and free up NHS capacity during the pandemic,” Fredi Cavander-Attwood, policy manager at the MS Society, said in a society press release.

“But the needs of people with MS have not disappeared and we fear the long-term impact on their health and wellbeing,” Cavander-Attwood added. “The Government must also ensure, when planning for a second wave of the pandemic, that it factors in protection for essential rehabilitation services.”

This survey’s findings were in agreement with those of a separate U.K. survey, recently released by the Neurological Alliance. In that survery, 72% of people with neurological diseases, including MS, reported having medical appointments canceled during the outbreak, and 43% said they had not been given a new meeting date.

“We’re hearing first-hand from people with MS who feel that their health and wellbeing has deteriorated during the pandemic because they have been unable to access the life-changing rehabilitation services they rely on,” Megan Roberts, head of the Health Professionals Programmes at the MS Trust, said in its press release.

“Healthcare professionals are going above and beyond to support people with MS in these uncertain times, but they are facing huge challenges to meet the needs of the MS community and get services back to pre-Covid capacity. We stand with the MS Society in urging the NHS to address the current gaps in treatment, care and support and ensure nobody is left to face MS alone,” Roberts added.

Among challenges likely to make it harder for services to safely regain capacity was an expected backlog of patients, according to 75% of the health professionals who responded, followed by a lack of physical space to safely care for people with MS (66%), patient reluctance to get care at a hospital or clinic (60%), and staff shortages (37%).

About a quarter (24%) noted that more than half of trained staff on their service have been assigned away from MS care.

Among the respondents, 23% were currently deployed away from MS care, and 29% felt their time was not being used efficiently.

Nearly all  healthcare professionals (87%) said discussions were underway to resume services that had been canceled, delayed, or limited since the outbreak, and 88% wanted virtual, telehealth appointments to continue after this pandemic passes.

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