Neurology service inequities hit a nerve

The inequity that exists in neurology services across the state, and the impact on people’s lives as a result of that inequity, is an issue Neurological Alliance Tasmania has been highlighting to governments for some time.

Neurological Alliance Tasmania is an alliance of 10 not-for-profit organisations representing or supporting thousands of Tasmanians living with or affected by neurological or progressive neuromuscular conditions.  With neurologically degenerative conditions it is important that timely and regular neurology consultations are provided. 

The Alliance, together with individual members, specifically Parkinson’s Tasmania, Multiple Sclerosis Limited Tasmania, Epilepsy Tasmania, and Huntington’s Disease Association Tasmania, has emphasised to the government the urgent and ongoing need for more neurologists to service Northern and the North-West of Tasmania.  

The prevalence of Huntington’s Disease in Tasmania is about twice that of the accepted average in Occidental populations. Since the death of Dr Andrew Churchyard, it has been more than 12 months since any Huntington’s Disease patients have seen a neurologist in the North/North-West of the state. Most North-West clients ,who previously attended the clinic in Devonport, are too ill to travel to Launceston, let alone to Hobart.

A relatively quick search of Hansard reveals the issue of inequities in neurological care across Tasmania has been raised repeatedly.  There are nine pages of Hansard from April 11 this year dedicated to a motion on the appointment of an additional part-time specialist nurse, in the North-West, for Parkinson’s Disease.  

Tasmania has the highest number of people with Parkinson’s Disease out of all the states; the North-West has the highest number of people with Parkinson’s Disease in Tasmania and the least number of on-the-ground services.

  It was acknowledged during discussion on the motion that “ part of the One State, One Health System reforms, the Tasmanian government has identified the need to improve the neurological services delivered across Tasmania.”

On June 22 this year, Independent Rosevears member Kerry Finch asked: “Why are category 1 [epilepsy] patients waiting up to 12 months for an appointment with a neurologist at the Launceston General Hospital?” Acting leader of the government in the Legislative Council Leonie Hiscutt replied: “There has been longstanding difficulty in attracting neurologists to regional and remote areas, including Northern Tasmania, which puts pressure on service delivery.”

Neurological Alliance Tasmania has welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Legislative Council Inquiry into Tasmania’s acute health services. The Alliance also welcome the Health Minister Michael Ferguson’s recent announcement that the government is planning to recruit two neurologists at Launceston General Hospital.  It is disappointing however that it has taken the resignation of the only full-time neurologist in the North and North-West, Dr Kurien Koshy, for the Minister to address this issue.

While Mr Ferguson has advised that locums will provide neurology services to the region until another full-time specialist is recruited, remaining dependent on locums is not a solution. The Alliance supports the provision of statewide health services and requests Mr Ferguson addresses the longstanding and dire neglect of neurology services in Northern Tasmania immediately. 

  • Deborah Byrne is the Neurological Alliance Tasmania chair