- A new report by MS Australia revealed that one-third of Australians living with MS (equivalent to 8,000 people) do not have access to MS nurse care
- Access to MS Nurse care brings many health benefits including less severe symptoms, lower levels of disability, depression and anxiety, and a higher quality of life
- Health economic analysis found that increasing the number of MS Nurses by 50% has potential to significantly reduce the cost of MS to the Australian economy
A landmark MS Nurse Care in Australia Report by MS Australia, in collaboration with the Menzies Institute for Medical Research and MS Nurses Australasia (MSNA), has revealed one-third of Australians living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – equivalent to 8,000 people – do not have access to life-changing MS nurse care.
Specialised nurse care has many health advantages for those living with MS, including lower disability levels and slower disease progression. It is also a highly cost-effective model of MS care, reducing the need for emergency visits, hospitalisations and other, more costly health professionals such as general practitioners and neurologists.
The MS Nurse model of care is tailored to the individual and includes active support, education, guidance and advanced clinical practice skills.
Belinda Bardsley is an MS Nurse and the outgoing President of MSNA. She said, “MS Nurses are there from the time of diagnosis throughout the course of the disease to provide expert care and support for our patients. However there has been a significant lack of awareness of the importance and breadth of our role and the difference we can make to people with MS”.
Due to insufficient funding and support, the number of MS Nurses in Australia is declining. Currently there are just 90 active MS Nurses for the over 25,600 people living with MS in this country. That leaves one nurse supporting 284 patients on average, but many MS Nurses work part-time or are spread across several disease specialities.
MS Australia is calling on the Federal, State and Territory Governments to prioritise nurse care and increase the MS Nurse workforce by 50 nurses, at a cost of approximately 5 million dollars per annum, which will bring substantial improvements in health outcomes to the MS community while reducing the overall annual cost of MS care by potentially $62.2 million.
Along with the financial savings of an MS Nursing model, the Report revealed that MS Nurse care brings many additional health benefits for people living with MS. Notably, these include less severe symptoms, lower levels of disability, depression and anxiety, and a higher quality of life. Belinda Bardsley said, “My colleagues and I have seen first-hand the important difference MS Nurse care makes to health outcomes. This Report definitively shows the value of MS Nurses in the wider
Australian context, as well as broader cost-saving benefits, as we keep people well and out of hospital leading productive, happy lives.”
While access to MS Nurse care is a national issue, it is of particular concern for regional, rural, and remote Australians, with almost 50 per cent surveyed reporting no access to an MS Nurse, compared to a quarter (28%) of those living in major cities. “I am deeply concerned that overall one-third of people with MS do not have access to an MS Nurse. I would like to see equity of access for all people with MS,” said Belinda Bardsley.
Speech therapist Leah McDonald, 28, who was hospitalised and diagnosed with MS in 2021 shortly before her wedding, agrees: “I can’t believe some people with MS don’t have access to an MS Nurse and I definitely count myself as a lucky one”.
Tasmanian-based MS advocate Lynda Hanlon, 56, has lived with MS for much longer. “I feel so fortunate to have travelled my 15-year MS journey with an MS nurse by my side. This has relieved my anxiety around relapses and minimised hospital admissions. Just knowing I can contact my nurse by phone, email or in person gives me a sense of security and support, especially since they have travelled my journey and understand”, she said.
“The findings from the MS Nurse Care in Australia Report include four key recommendations: to raise awareness, assist the existing MS Nurse workforce, increase the number of MS Nurses, and increase access to MS Nurses”, said report co-author Professor Ingrid van der Mei from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.
MS Australia President, Associate Professor Desmond Graham said, “We are proud to share this critical report with the wider Australian community and ignite an important and overdue conversation about the significant role MS Nurses provide in the MS community and the urgent need for more support, attention and funds.”
“A $5 million annual investment from the Federal Government would provide significant support to the MS Nurse workforce, increase the quality of life for people living with MS and could also reduce the overall annual cost of MS care by $62.2 million,” added Associate Professor Graham.
MS Nurse Care in Australia Report Recommendations (summary):
- Raise awareness – of MS Nurse role, value, supports and services provided, review existing sector and public-facing resources and distribution channels
- Assist the existing MS Nurse workforce – support and expand through mentorship and training programs, MS Nursing and MS Research Nursing included in university nursing courses
- Increase the number of MS Nurses – economic benefits outweigh costs, so we need targeted advocacy to expand workforce; assess funding arrangements
- Increase access to MS Nurses – advocacy to expand telehealth services by amending Medicare to cover MS Nurse appointments