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Drastic under-resourcing of DHB neurology services means NZ is falling well short of internationally-approved standards of care for people with multiple sclerosis

August 22, 2017 | Advocacy, Life with MS

Media release 6 July 2017


The Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand (MSNZ) is extremely concerned about the negative impact of the current shortage of neurologists and multiple sclerosis (MS) nurses in DHBs around New Zealand.

“The shortage of funding for these specific medical professionals is leading to increased and prolonged waiting times for both people diagnosed with MS, and those awaiting neurology appointments to determine a diagnosis,” says MSNZ Vice-President Neil Woodhams.

“New Zealand currently has just over half of the neurologists it should have given its population,” he says.

An article in the August 2015 New Zealand Medical Journal said that New Zealand should have one neurologist per 70,000 people in order to meet internationally-approved standards of care. This equates to 65 neurologists for a population of 4.5 million.

“New Zealand only has 37 full-time equivalent neurologists employed in DHBs across the country. This figure is a disgrace. Unfortunately, we believe that New Zealanders are being conditioned to accept this level of service as the norm,” says Woodhams.

“The NZ health system is already seriously short of neurologists and the position will only get worse, with 50% of current neurologists due to turn 65 in the next 12 years. DHBs need to allocate more funding to employ and retain both New Zealand-trained and international neurologists.

“As a result of these shortages, neurologists, MS nurses, and other staff are being placed under intolerable pressure to try and provide an adequate service. It is unfortunate that DHB management is not supporting their efforts with increased resources.”

Woodhams describes examples of the effects that the shortage is having on New Zealanders with MS. “The waiting times for people to see a neurologist are unacceptable. Rotorua has only 19 neurology clinic appointment days per year, and Auckland has one neurologist per 160,000 people. In Taranaki and South Canterbury people are waiting four months for an initial appointment and in Palmerston North we have reports of people waiting 15 months for a follow-up.”

Delays such as this are critical for people with MS as early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in limiting and managing the often irreversible, progressive deterioration caused by the condition.

Itis not only the lack of neurologists and specialist nurses that are causing delays, says Woodhams. “Currently, access for specialist assessments, MRIs and other diagnosis and monitoring procedures are not provided in a timely manner by many DHBs. We know this because of a recent OIA request made to New Zealand DHBs.

“In Canterbury people were recently waiting more than six months for the results of MRI scans. Delays can mean that a person with MS cannot access the treatment they desperately need in a timely manner which may result in disease progression and disability.

“Positive steps in the treatment of MS have been made in New Zealand over recent years with four new drugs being funded in the last three years. However, the lack of resources means some people are unable to access these drugs and treatments,” says Woodhams.