It’s Rare Disease Day — time for a launch or two!

Local advocates call for action on international Rare Disease Day as shocking new report highlights shortcomings in Health and Social Care for people with rare diseases

A new report launched by the Patient and Client Council at Stormont today to coincide with international Rare Disease Day captures how people affected by rare diseases in Northern Ireland frequently face long delays in accessing a diagnosis for their condition and suffer a poor experience of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland.

The report which is based on a survey conducted of 132 people (both patients and carers) affected by over 60 different rare diseases reveals:

  • 29% of patients wait between 1 and 5 years for a correct diagnosis and over 20% wait over 5 years;
  • 34% of patients are misdiagnosed – 20% of which received inappropriate treatment as a result;
  • Patients have to attend multiple appointments with different health professionals to obtain a diagnosis and it is frequently a battle to do so;
  • 57% of people caring for a person with a rare disease do so for more than 20 hours a day;
  • Over 40% of patients described their experience of the health and social care service in Northern Ireland as “poor” or “very poor”, and nearly a quarter described it as “average”. Only a third of patients described their experience as “very good” or “excellent”;
  • Patients also reported feeling ignored by doctors, and that there is a lack of information and support for rare disease patients.

These findings come as no surprise to the patients and families involved in the Northern Ireland Rare Disease Partnership (NIRDP) which is also being officially launched today.  The NIRDP has been set up to bring together those living with a rare disease, and the clinicians, researchers and others working in the field, to work collaboratively to raise awareness, improve professional training and service provision, and campaign for those living with a rare disease in Northern Ireland.

NIRDP Chair, Christine Collins said:

“The findings of this important Patient and Client Council report reaffirm the need for a strong grass roots organisation here in Northern Ireland working in partnership to improve services and offer support to those living with rare diseases and their carers. We want to bring together the expert knowledge, skills and commitment of the clinicians and researchers and the experience and insights of those living with rare diseases, to put an end to the situation where people rattle around the health system without a diagnosis and fail to get the treatment, care and support they need.”

The NIRDP, along with Rare Disease UK, are calling for a UK rare disease plan to improve services and facilitate much needed research into rare diseases, both in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It is hoped the draft plan will be launched for public consultation today.

The Chair of Rare Disease UK, Alastair Kent OBE said:

“Like all patients, those with rare diseases want to be confident that the health service is doing the best it can to respond to their needs. Services for rare disease patients and their families need to incorporate current scientific possibilities delivered to the highest possible standards of good practice. A plan for rare diseases will create a framework that will allow for the best use of the expertise that exists in Northern Ireland, and ensure that this is effectively integrated with services and support elsewhere in the UK and Ireland. Patients and families need to have confidence that the health service is there for them as it is for everyone else. A plan for rare diseases is a tangible expression of commitment to these patients and families, and a yardstick by which we will be able to measure progress.”

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