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Navigating the economic impact of neurological disorders in the UK

Roche Products Ltd

5 min read Partner content

Neurological conditions affect one in six Britons, impacting lives, work, and the economy. A recent report produced by The Economist Impact on the economic impact of neurological conditions on the UK was the focus of discussion at a parliamentary event last month that explored potential ways to transform patient care

Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Epilepsy will be experienced by one in six of us during our lifetimes. However, a new report, commissioned by international pharmaceutical company Roche Products Ltd and produced by independent experts at The Economist Impact, reveals that the quality and speed of care we receive will depend on where we live and the skills we can access.

The recently launched report and the issues it raises for neurology care in the UK were the focus of discussions at a recent parliamentary event. It explored the human and economic costs of a neurology system struggling to keep pace with a rising tide of demand. 

Ben Everitt MP, who hosted the event, opened by sharing his childhood memories of witnessing the impact of Multiple Sclerosis on his Auntie Nina. He reminded attendees that whilst we often rightly focus on those who live with neurological conditions, we should always remember that every one of those people has a network of family and friends who are also affected.  

“It brings it home to me that it's not just those one in six across the UK,” he explained. “It's friends and family, husbands and wives, parents, and nephews like me, who also see this terrible journey and are also indirectly affected by these illnesses.”

Georgina Carr, chief executive at The Neurological Alliance, told attendees that she often hears individual stories from people who were struggling to access the care that they desperately need.

“In our most recent Patient Experience survey, one in five people told us that they had been waiting more than a year from being referred from their GP to seeing their neurologist,” she explained. “We can and we must do better.”

Those delays create misery and uncertainty for patients, impacting on both physical and mental health. And, as Carr pointed out, given the prevalence of neurological conditions, all of us have a stake in driving improvements to the healthcare system.

“It's in all of our interests to make sure that when something goes wrong with our nervous system, we can access the right treatment and support in a timely way,” she said. “Today's report is a really important reminder of the importance of that, not just for the individual but for society as a whole. I urge government to finally prioritise the needs of the one in six. As we've learnt today, it's costly for all of us if we don’t act right now.”

Peter Dowd MP, who is the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Health, also focused on the immense human suffering that results from neurological conditions. He calculated that the one in six figure meant that in his Bootle constituency, there were likely to be approximately 16,000 people who would experience a neurological condition.

Dowd also drew attention to some of the report’s key findings and recommendations that he believes could radically improve diagnosis and care. For instance, he highlighted the potential to add Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) to the NHS newborn screening programme which would ensure speedier diagnosis and access to care for those born with SMA.

Dowd also highlighted the economic costs of neurological conditions, which The Economist Impact experts calculated to be at least £96bn, which is equivalent to more than 4.3% of the UK’s GDP in 2019. According to the report, that figure could be reduced by almost £40bn, simply by implementing existing interventions.

“That cost could be slashed for a relatively low investment now,” Dowd reminded those attending the event. “It's a relatively small price to pay. But it isn't just about the cash. It's about the immeasurable cost to our families, to our relatives, and our friends.” 

The event also heard from experts who believe that shortcomings in the current system also mean that UK patients will potentially miss out on emerging new treatments that medical advances are delivering.

“If you're one of the unlucky one in six people who develops a neurological condition, the only comfort I can offer you is there's never been a better time,” Richard Davenport, president of the Association of British Neurologists (ABN), told attendees. “We are slowly unravelling the complexities of the brain and the nervous system. We're working out how it goes wrong and we're working out how to fix it.”

However, Davenport cautioned that unless more is done to increase capacity and improve coordination, many Britons could miss out on the benefits that new approaches are opening up.

Davenport highlighted the crisis in capacity across neurology services, with a lack of trained staff who have the skills and knowledge to support patients. The Economist Imapct report shows that, in the UK, there is just 1 neurologist per 100,000 population, eight times less than the European average. Davenport believes that unless that fundamental workforce issue is addressed, then there is a risk that people living with neurological conditions will miss out on care that could improve or extend their lives.

“If we fail to invest in the neurological workforce, we will not be able to harvest the rewards and benefits from these increasingly effective treatments,” he told the event. “I want us to focus on the importance of making that brave decision to invest in our neurological workforce. That would put UK neurology back at the forefront of the world where it should be for the good of our population and our economy.”

Click here to read The value of action: mitigating the impact of neurological disorders in the United Kingdom report from The Economist, supported by Roche.

M-GB-00016593 March 2024 

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