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Health: Post-polio Syndrome

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2015


Asked by

My Lords, the NHS Five Year Forward View sets out a number of high-level objectives that will support better care for people living with long-term conditions, including post-polio syndrome. Our overall approach is to enable person-centred care so that health services can work in partnership with people to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. The Government wish the British Polio Fellowship every success with its post-polio syndrome awareness day this Thursday.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister’s response on that latter point will be very welcome. He will be aware that an estimated 120,000 people are affected by post-polio syndrome. This will often occur years after they contracted polio and it brings pain and tiredness. The problem is that the NHS is largely unaware of the condition. There are very few specialist consultants, GPs do not usually recognise it, and the orthotic services are not geared up to provide some of the appliances that are necessary to ease the pain. Is the Minister prepared to look at this again to see whether some kind of national strategy or care pathway could be produced which would lead to a much greater consistency of provision in the health service?

The noble Lord is right that there is no specific pathway for people suffering from post-polio syndrome. NHS England will approach this on the basis of all long-term conditions rather than segmenting them by individual disease categories. I will be very happy to meet with him outside the House to discuss this.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the poliomyelitis virus attacks the nerve cells in the brain stem and spinal cord which give origin to the nerves that control the movement of the muscles, and, hence, that if these cells are killed, the result is paralysis of the relevant muscles? Several authorities believe that in an acute attack of poliomyelitis, certain nerve cells are damaged but recover, only to die prematurely some years later, thus causing the post-polio syndrome of progressive muscular weakness. Would not one important strategy be to have a graded exercise programme to try to increase the power of those muscles that retain a viable nerve supply?

The noble Lord is much better informed about this than I am, and of course I agree with him 110%. However, there are other aspects to treating this pernicious illness; clearly pain relief is important. It raises the issue that GP practices having a multidisciplinary team—physios and people who are experts in mobility, orthotics, pain relief and exercise—is very important.

My Lords, people with post-polio syndrome often require the care of a wide range of different specialists, which makes the linking up of their care and treatment particularly crucial. What are the Government doing to ensure that these can be linked up? Could the Minister say whether any of the vanguard sites are working on partnerships that will enable this to happen?

NHS England’s approach to most people who are suffering from long-term conditions is best summed up through its House of Care programme, which is very much based around the individual and their carers and so is personalised. Of course, personal health budgets can have a big role to play for people with long-term, complex, chronic conditions.

Is the Minister entirely content with the change that has taken place whereby we do not develop single-disease strategies? I speak as a patron of the British Liver Trust. We have long argued that there should be a strategy on liver disease, but this has been resisted. We find an increasing number of people dying from liver cancers, yet no strategy exists because of the decision that the Minister explained to us.

I agreed that I would meet with the noble Lord opposite to talk about post-polio syndrome, but perhaps this raises wider issues, including about liver disease and other disease categories, which we can cover at the same time.