Multiple Sclerosis: Plea for more nurses to help 25,000 Aussies with chronic disease
Posted On April 6, 2022
When Leah McDonald noticed tingling in her feet while running last year, she put it down to getting back into shape after knee surgery.
But then the 28-year-old woke up one morning unable to see properly in her right eye.
“My right eye was fuzzy and it progressively got worse,” she said.
Ms McDonald works as a speech pathologist at a hospital and has some medical knowledge. She soon realised what could be wrong.
She feared she might be suffering with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
Scans confirmed it within days. It was actually a relief.
“I guess I was expecting it,” she said. “I ended up high-fiving the doctor as I wasn’t wanting the diagnosis of the other things,” she said.
Soon after her diagnosis, Mrs McDonald, from Swanhill in regional Victoria was introduced to a special medic.
Belinda Bardsley is her MS nurse and helped her negotiate her new reality.
‘It was incredible,” she said. “I had no idea that whole service was available.
“It’s been so reassuring. I would hate to think of how scary it would be to go through what I’ve gone through and not have that support.”
However around a third of the 25,000 Aussies with MS have to face diagnosis without an MS nurse’s support.
There are only 90 in Australia.
A new report from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, in collaboration with MS Australia and MS Nurses Australasia, showed the benefits of having a nurse.
It found patients with the specialised nursing care see lower disability levels, slower disease progression, reduced need for emergency visits, hospitalisations and more costly health professionals
All this added up to a ten per cent reduction in costs associated with MS care.
Rohan Greenland, CEO MS Australia said a $5m government investment would reduce the overall annual cost of MS care by $62.2 million.
“Nurses in chronic disease care, like MS, can effectively alter the trajectory of the disease and when the diagnosis is in younger people, 20-to-30-year-olds as we see in MS, investment in nurses is absolutely essential, he said.
“They have their full life ahead and ensuring they have the ability to maximise every aspect of it – must be acknowledged and prioritised.”
Meanwhile, Ms McDonald has started monthly infusions of a drug called Tysabri which has been seen to slow down the disease’s progression in some studies.
She was well enough to walk down the aisle at her wedding to partner Gus a few months after being diagnosed.
She is even back to running, and will take part in MS charity fundraiser The May 50K.
She admits she sometimes needs to take things easy, but is determined to have a positive outlook.
“I still get tingling limbs and fatigue is a big thing and the vision in my right eye is a bit impaired,” she said.
“I can drink alcohol, and dance, I guess it’s just being wary that I’m going to be really tired the next day.
“I’m optimistic it’s not going to affect my life too much. It’s just learning how to manage it,” she said.
The Australian Government Department of Health, said it has given $6.4 million towards a pilot which aims to improve access to specialised nursing care for people with conditions including Multiple Sclerosis.
It said it’s leading the development of a National Nursing Strategy and a Nurse Practitioner 10 Year Plan.
“The Strategy will set out a vision for the future of nursing in Australia and will articulate priorities for action to help support a capable, resilient nursing profession delivering person-centred, evidence-based, compassionate care to Australian communities across all sectors, including MS,” a spokesman, said.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)is a chronic disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.
While there is medication to manage the disease, there’s no cure, and treatment can’t reverse the damage that’s already been done.
Many people, often wrongly, associate MS with being unable to walk, but that’s not always the case.
Every week, 10 Australians will be diagnosed with the disease and three quarters of them will be aged 20-40.
That makes it is the most common chronic disease in young adults
Three times as many women have MS than men.
MS symptoms include muscular spasms, loss of balance, fatigue, constipation and memory loss.