Patients with acute neurological conditions are waiting too long to see specialist consultants amid ‘scandalous’ widespread variations in hospital services across the country, HSJ has learned.

A study by the Association of British Neurologists found that one in three district general hospitals were only able to offer a consultant review for acute neurological patients on two or fewer days a week.

It also found more than four out of five DGHs were unable to provide round the clock MRI scans throughout the week, and a similar number offered no acute neurology clinics.

The report, the first ever national study of 195 acute hospitals, compared acute neurological services against the best practice standards set by the association.

According to the study, neurological disorders such as stroke and epilepsy account for up to 20 per cent of acute medical admissions.

The association said the study identified “serious shortcomings” in some parts of the country with “dramatic” variation in access to daily neurological consultations.

Where neurologists were based in a DGH, only 58 per cent of these hospitals offered an acute neurological service. None provided seven day access to consultants and 49 per cent provided this across 5 days.

For DGHs with no resident neurologists, access to neurological services fell to 32 per cent with only 5 per cent providing access to a consultant across five days.

Only 54 hospitals - 28 per cent - provided dedicated neurology beds.

Geraint Fuller, president of the association, said: “Some patients with acute neurological problems, which can be notoriously difficult to diagnose and manage, are having to wait for an unacceptable time before seeing a neurologist.

“These patients need access to these services wherever they happen to live and in whatever hospital they get admitted to.”

David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at City Hospital in Birmingham and a Royal College of Physicians council member, described the report as a “call to arms for the neurological community”.

He added: “We totally accept that if a patient is admitted with acute coronary syndrome they get to see a cardiologist urgently, but for how long will we put up with a situation where in a third of hospitals, if you present with an acute neurological problem you will only get to see a neurologist on two or less days a week?

“This is nothing less than scandalous, but shows the importance of projects such as the RCP’s Future Hospital Commission to address such core problems.”