Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Mary Harney addresses Neurology Meeting

On Wednesday November 10th, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Mary Harney was guest of honour at the opening session of the Institute's Diaspora Meeting in the Mansion House. She rearranged her schedule to enable her to listen to speakers outlining the current difficulties with provision of clinical neurology services in Ireland.

Mr. Eric Hauth, Dr. Orla Hardiman, An Tánaiste Mary Harney,
Ms. Audrey Craven and Dr. Charles Normand

Dr. Orla Hardiman, director of the Diaspora Meeting, opened the first session of the meeting by profiling the current situation in Ireland, and emphasising the need for a substantial investment of resources to raise the level of services to an acceptable standard. Approximately 12% of the Irish population have neurological disease. Dr. Hardiman stated that the neurologist to population ratio in Ireland was one consultant per 333,300 population, the lowest in Europe, and also far below the level in the UK, the next lowest-ranking country. Multidisciplinary teams were essential to manage the care of patients with neurological conditions.  The numbers of those skilled professionals currently employed in the management of neurological illness including occupational therapists, speech therapists and physiotherapists were negligible. Noteworthy also were the inequities in access to services, depending on the geographical location of the patient. To view Dr. Hardiman's presentation, please click here

Dr. Charles Normand, Kennedy Chair of Health Policy, TCD described the challenge of measuring health.  He noted that estimating the need for resources is always difficult in chronic conditions such as neurology, which are complex. High quality evidence is much more easily acquired for those therapies amenable to one-off treatment. However, lack of evidence is not always ground for low priority. Dr. Normand  asserted that 'rationing by waiting is almost never the clever way to manage a shortage'. 

Deputy Liz Mc Manus and Dr. Charles Normand

Mr. Eric Hauth, senior manager, State Affairs Committee, American Academy of Neurology, explained how the AAN promotes advocacy by neurologists by empowering them to get involved on behalf of patient groups. He noted that Dr. Hardiman had been the recipient of the Palatucci award through her outstanding commitment to advocacy on behalf of patients with the Neurological Alliance of Ireland. He described how the the California NeuroAlliance, by bringing together many groups, had successfully influenced important policy decisions. Public awareness of the prevalence of neurological disease and the necessity of timely access to specialist management was critical to ensure optimum care. The most successful way to achieving these goals was through partnership. To view Mr. Hauth's presentation click here 

The Tánaiste addressed the meeting, and reiterated her committment to confronting the very significant challenges to reform of the health service. The difficulties currently being experienced in A&E were symptomatic of the broader problems in the health service and concentrating on addressing this issue should be seen as the beginning of a process of reform. While admitting that as yet she was not wholly familiar with her new portfolio, and knew very little about neurology, she committed herself to learning more.

Professor Michael Hutchinson, attending the meeting, commented that the difficulties of providing a service to patients, under current conditions, were enormous. He noted that long wait times to see the small number of neurologists in Ireland, meant that some expensive therapies were not properly supervised.

Dr. Niall Tubridy and Dr. Timothy Counihan

Thanking the Tánaiste for agreeing to attend, and furthermore, for her keen interest in what the speakers had to say, Ms. Audrey Craven, chairperson of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland reminded everyone of the motto of the NAI 'Unity is Strength'. She closed the meeting, expressing sincere thanks to the all of the speakers, and anticipated a fruitful discussion on Thursday morning when the next session would explore the difficulties with, and possible solutions to, provision of neurological services throughout the country.


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