‘MS patients being forgotten about’

Alastair McAfee, Chairman, MS Society, Coleraine Branch.
Alastair McAfee, Chairman, MS Society, Coleraine Branch.

The chairman of the MS Society Coleraine and District Branch has expressed concern about the treatment of MS sufferers following the retirement of a consultant neurologist at Causeway Hospital.

Alastair McAfee wrote to The Coleraine Times saying that since Dr Hawkins had stopped seeing local sufferers at the hospital many had felt “isolated” and uncertain about the future.

However the Belfast Trust has issued a statement explaining the changes and says a review on Northern Ireland wide MS services will soon be carried out,

Alastair said: “I, like many others, was always seen by Dr Hawkins and his very experienced MS nurse who virtually knew all their patients inside out, which developed into a friendly and trusting relationship, an important factor especially to someone with MS.”

However Alastair added that since his retirement, “some of Dr Hawkins patients have since been transferred to Dr McDonnell’s practice, but a good majority (including myself) seemed to be left high and dry, though a doctor has come down from Antrim gave us a basic assessment and told the most of us ‘see you in a year’s time.’

“A lot can change on a daily basis with multiple sclerosis so to be put in a position that you’re only visiting a specialist once a year now is totally unacceptable and to rub salt in our wounds the NHS has decided to also remove Dr Hawkins’ MS nurse from Causeway Hospital.

“She was a very important part of his team as patients of Dr Hawkins were able to discuss what problems and concerns they had since their last appointment with him.

“The MS nurse cared about the patients so much she came up with various options in order to make these changes less distressing especially as she knows all of Dr Hawkins patients so well but unfortunately the NHS refused to accept any of these options, a decision we find absolutely unbelievable as we all had such an excellent relationship with the nurse.

“At the moment we are feeling so isolated and it seems as if it’s only going from bad to worse until we’re forgot about completely.”

Responding to the concerns, a spokesperson for Belfast Trust and the Health and Social Care Board said: “A Consultant Neurologist retired at the end of March 2012.

“Arrangements were put in place for this consultant to return to work on a part-time basis and to continue to provide MS services at the Belfast City Hospital and Causeway Hospital.

!However, although the consultant will continue with MS clinics at Belfast City Hospital, he has recently ceased to undertake clinics at Causeway Hospital.

“In relation to the MS nursing service at Causeway Hospital, due to competing pressures from demand for specialist drugs therapies for patients with MS, it was recently decided, that the MS nurses who would have attended neurology clinics, would assist with the delivery of the specialist MS treatments, which for the most part are undertaken on the Royal Victoria Hospital site.

“This helps to ensure that the increasing number of patients requiring disease modifying therapy infusions can receive their treatment as required. The HSC Board was advised about this change in September 2014.

“The HSC Board and PHA are due to commence a review of MS services, as part of a wider project involving neurology services across Northern Ireland.

“This review will have input from neurology staff across all healthcare trusts, and will include other relevant stakeholders with the aim of developing a service specification for all MS patients which offers clinically consistent care irrespective of where they live in Northern Ireland.”