A critical time for epilepsy in England?

This week is National Epilepsy Week (19-25 May), and as with many medical conditions, a key issue is the ongoing development of health services to meet people’s needs. Earlier this year, Epilepsy Action published a report looking into the health services provided in England, and the likelihood that they will improve in the near future. Pete Scott, Senior Health Policy and Campaigns Officer with Epilepsy Action guides us through some of the analysis.


As a test case for the Health and Social Care Act, epilepsy should be pretty near the top of any list. It has a reasonable prevalence (neither rare nor overly common) and is present in all acute hospitals, doctor’s surgeries and residential homes. It requires input from primary, acute and social care in order to achieve successful outcomes.

It is precisely the type of condition that has been badly catered for in the past – it is not significant enough to earn a national director or fully-funded strategy, yet it is highly visible (not least in its impact on budgets). It also sits in that troublesome pot called long-term conditions, whereby successful care should be measured by quality of life and ongoing management, as much as numbers cured. These conditions are something even the strongest advocates of the NHS would agree has not been very well provided for up-to-now.

Our survey audit (conducted last year) backed up this view. We found fractured care pathways, a dislocated service based on where a person lives, and a deficiency in the number of specialists. A booster shot of some kind is long overdue.

And if epilepsy is a reasonable litmus test for measuring the new reforms, the initial signs are not encouraging. Of the shadow Clinical Commissioning Groups we surveyed, two thirds (66 per cent) did not have, or did not have any intention to produce, an assessment of the needs of people with epilepsy. The survey of local authorities asked similar questions about any ‘plans for planning’. Only a quarter of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessments for 2011/12 included a section that mentions epilepsy.

From this, it is clear that the frameworks and indicators set will have to be conscientiously designed and focused fairly on those conditions that remain under the radar. Otherwise the new NHS risks continuing the same journey and repeating the same mistakes as the old one.

You can find out more about this project and the surveys, including the results provided by each local area, by visiting epilepsy.org.uk/acriticaltime

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