Report shows GPs need more support to treat people with epilepsy
Last week, the Neurological Alliance published a report showing that a majority of general practitioners across the UK feel that the health service is not up to scratch for people with neurological conditions, and that doctors in primary care would benefit from further training.
The Neurology and primary care report surveyed over 1,000 GPs across the UK and asked a series of questions about their views on the overall quality and availability of care for people with neurological conditions. Disconcertingly, the survey found that 85% of GPs in England are either ‘concerned’ or ‘somewhat concerned’ about the time taken from referral to consultation with a specialist in secondary care, and that 59% believe local services are not providing for timely diagnoses.
The survey also asked about GPs’ confidence in treating people with epilepsy and other neurological conditions, and the responses were revealing: 84% of medical practitioners in primary care feel that they could benefit from further training on identifying and managing people presenting with neurological conditions.
While this indicates a very high proportion of GPs do not feel entirely prepared for people with neurological conditions, it is a fact backed up by the experiences of many of our supporters, as indicated in responses to a beneficiary survey we carried out earlier this year. A number of respondents said that doctors in both primary and secondary care felt more at ease when their patients arrived for a consultation armed with our information materials.
But the findings of the Neurological Alliance’s report should not be considered in isolation. It shows that GPs need more time, more information and more confidence when referring patients to secondary care, in order to provide the best treatment for people with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. And this is the case across all conditions: GPs have been warning against the standard practice of offering ten-minute consultations for years and evidence from a recent pilot programme carried out in Scotland suggests the benefits of much longer consultations for people with complex (and often multiple) conditions are many.
The well-documented flipside to the argument for longer consultations is that it could have the effect of reducing timely access for many, especially given the ongoing recruitment crisis in primary care. The point to consider for people with epilepsy is that while more epilepsy specialist nurses, neurologists and hospital doctors with epilepsy expertise will certainly help to deliver better access and outcomes, GPs are clearly in need of much greater support to provide the most effective service possible.
GPs are the first port of call for most people in need of medical help and as such they are often in the firing line when we feel that the health service has failed us. The Neurological Alliance’s report shows that doctors in primary care are willing to admit where the service is not effective, and that they can learn more to better treat people with complex conditions. Epilepsy Society and people with epilepsy can do their part by providing their doctors with as much information on the condition as possible, and by fully supporting the calls of the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the King’s Fund and many others for the Government to significantly increase its investment in primary care services across the UK.