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More awareness needed of neurological conditions.

By Karen Roberts, RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats Campaign Manager and a regional candidate for South Wales Central.

Neurological conditions result from damage to the brain, spinal column or nerves, whether by disease or direct injury and can affect anyone at any time. They include a variety of conditions that, by name at least, are familiar to most of us, such as Parkinson's, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy.

Yet very few of us - me included - really understand what they are or more importantly how they affect those who live with them.

I had the pleasure last week of joining a cross party panel at a Q&A session organised by MS Cymru where we were quizzed on what our parties plans for the NHS were and how they could specifically help those who live with these conditions. And that is an important phrase - as one lady was keen to point out "I am not an MS sufferer, I am a person who lives with MS."

It was just one of the lessons we learned.

The lack of awareness both amongst the public, and more strikingly, amongst the health and social care services, was also highlighted. One gentleman spoke very movingly of the problems his son was encountering following an accident where the staff failed to understand his special needs as someone with MS. It is not an isolated incident.

There are far too few consultant and nursing specialists in Wales dealing with neurological conditions. As with many areas of the NHS there are simply not enough staff available. Just throwing extra money at it is not the answer, the recruitment problem should have been addressed years ago, but the Welsh Labour Government have done too little too late.

When asked what messages those present wanted us to take away answers included "stop playing politics" and "end the post code lottery." There was also a call to work towards producing more effective treatments.

So how do Welsh Liberal Democrat policies fit with this?

Kirsty Williams has been calling for a Health Commission for some time, one that would include representatives from all parties as well as, more importantly, medical staff and lay members. Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives refused to take part, but it is not an idea we want to let go of and will be pushing for this after the election.

The Welsh Liberal Democrat approach to the NHS is that it has to provide care at the right place and at the right time and centre upon dignity, compassion, and choice for individuals.

We are committed to the idea that community-based services should be maintained wherever possible and wherever there is a clinical case for that service to remain in the community. We would seek to ensure consistent self-referral access across Wales to health professionals such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

We believe in empowering patients, helping people to do things for themselves and maximise their ability to live life as independently as possible. A system in which patients and their carers set their own goals and are supported by a team from a range of backgrounds to achieve them.

We have to ensure proper collaboration between health care and social care services so that patients are not simply passed around various services.

We would look to develop an all-Wales "Individual Patient Funding Requests" panel and remove the 'exceptionality' hurdle making it easier for patients to access drugs that their doctor thinks could be of help to them.

We would put the Welsh NHS at the forefront of medical advances by extending the Health Technologies Fund which was originally a Welsh Liberal Democrat idea taken up by Welsh Government.

The manifesto produced by MS Cymru and others is common sense with proposals based on what many of us would regard as principles of human decency. We all have a role to play in ensuring that our health service is fit for purpose and delivers the level of care needed at the point of need.