Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
Specialist neurology nurses redeployed due to Covid-19 must be returned to their substantive roles as soon as possible to pull patients with complex conditions out of “limbo”, experts have warned.
They told Nursing Times that the mass redeployment of more than 2,000 neurology specialist nurses across England since the pandemic had “undoubtedly had a huge impact on patient care”.
A recent survey by the Neurological Alliance of more than 1,600 people with neurological conditions across the UK found 72% had experienced delays to their NHS appointments since Covid-19.
Among the potential consequences of missed care cited were delayed diagnosis, faster deterioration and avoidable hospital admissions.
Calls are now being made for specialist nurses to be released back into their normal posts to help restore neurological services to their former strength.
Georgina Carr, chief executive of the Neurological Alliance, a coalition of more than 80 UK organisations in the field of neurological care, said: “While specialist nurses have done all they can to retain some contact with people with neurological conditions during this crisis, our survey clearly shows that people with suspected and confirmed neurological conditions are being left in complete limbo whilst frontline services have been diverted to treat Covid-19 patients.
“This just isn’t acceptable and means thousands of people are not getting the life-changing treatment and support they so desperately need.”
The alliance wanted NHS England to submit a plan for restarting neurological services as soon as it was clinically safe to do so, added Ms Carr.
“They must apply the same leadership they have shown to restarting cancer and fertility services, to the restart of NHS neurology services,” she warned.
Matron and palliative care clinical nurse specialist Debbie Quinn, who holds several national leadership roles including chair of the Royal College of Nursing Neuroscience Forum, was also backing the appeal for neurology nurses to be returned to their normal roles.
She told Nursing Times: “We need neurology services to be supported to get back on their feet, so they can provide much-needed treatment, care and support to the millions of people with a neurological condition.
“Central to that is ensuring specialist nurses are released back to their substantive roles, so we can boost capacity in services and reach back out to those who have missed out on this vital nursing support during the pandemic.”
Explaining how the pandemic had affected neurology services, Ms Quinn said it was “clear” that there had been “mass redeployment of the more than 2,000 neurology specialist nurses across the country”, adding: “This undoubtedly had a huge impact on patient care”.
“Nurses are often the key source of information and guidance about symptom control, medication initiation and titration, as well as providing an expert listening ear when recently diagnosed with a neurological condition and in the longer term,” said Ms Quinn, who is also a policy advisor to the UK MS Specialist Nurse Association and specialist advisor to the MS Society.
“Without this support, we risk symptoms not being well controlled, late referral for further therapy input, late diagnosis, increases in anxiety and depression. Ultimately, we face increased need for services in the future due to more complex needs.”
She said in the longer term there needed to be investment in the neurology workforce and particularly in what she described as a shortage of neurological specialist nurses.
“As a valuable member of the neurology multidisciplinary team, it’s critical we meet our workforce needs now and in the future if we are to truly address gaps in treatment, care and support,” added Ms Quinn.
These concerns about workforce shortages were also echoed by Ms Carr and were also included in a report released by the Neurological Alliance as part of its recent survey of neurological patients.
Ms Carr told Nursing Times that the workforce needs of the neurology services had been “overlooked for too long”, with specialist nurses feeling “overworked” and struggling with caseloads that were too high.
Giving an example, she noted how an additional 61 to 105 new specialist MS nurses were needed to bring average caseloads down to an acceptable level, and that demand for epilepsy nurses was three times above the current availability.
One consultant epilepsy nurse who spoke to Nursing Times anonymously said it was a “mixed bag” in terms of the level of redeployment of epilepsy nurse specialists nationally but said at their trust all were redeployed for 13 weeks.
One challenge was that many epilepsy nurses did not hold a general nursing qualification, having been learning disability nurses by background, which meant employers needed to put them through an “acclimatisation period” in their new area of work, they said.
However, they added: “Most specialist nurses think that being prepared for redeployment was the right thing to do.”
The loss of capacity in epilepsy services meant patients missed out on medication reviews, updating of care plans and “most importantly” seizure reviews, which help to prevent avoidable deaths.
While for others a lack of specialist nurse availability may have contributed to a delay in diagnosis, said the nurse.
They added: “It is very important that specialist nurses return to frontline epilepsy roles as soon as possible.
“There will be an enormous backlog of patients already known to the service awaiting review appointments, as well as new referrals waiting to be seen.
“Additionally, some services may well still be feeling the impact of losing staff either directly or indirectly to Covid-19, which is certainly the case in my own service.”