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Epilepsy numbers in Northern Ireland have been called “highly concerning” by Epilepsy Action following recently published UK epilepsy prevalence and incidence figures.
A UK research team published findings on the prevalence (number of people) and incidence (number of new cases) of epilepsy in the UK’s different nations in Seizure journal in January this year. The total number of people with epilepsy in the UK has increased to around 633,000 from 600,000 between 2011 when the last review took place and 2018. But the proportion of people who have epilepsy in the whole population of the UK has dropped slightly in that time.
However, the research also looked at England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately. The findings showed higher rates of prevalence and incidence of epilepsy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compared to England and the UK overall. It also showed that the prevalence of epilepsy has increased in Wales and Northern Ireland when compared to the previous 2011 review.
Highest prevalence in the UK
Epilepsy Action has expressed particular concern about the numbers in Northern Ireland, especially considering the political situation at the moment.
In Northern Ireland, one in 83 people has epilepsy. This is the highest prevalence among the UK nations and compares to one in every 107 people in the UK overall. It is also an increase from the prevalence in Northern Ireland in 2011, which was one in 90 people. The number of new cases in Northern Ireland is just over 45 in every 100,000 people a year. This is higher than the UK overall, which is just over 42 new cases in 100,000 people a year.
Break the stalemate
Carla Smyth, Northern Ireland services and project manager at Epilepsy Action, said: “These new figures around the prevalence of epilepsy in Northern Ireland are hugely concerning and highlight a significant difference between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that waiting times for neurology appointments in Northern Ireland are the highest in the UK. We have heard from some people who have been told they face a wait of over four years for an appointment.
“We urgently need all political parties in Northern Ireland to get back round the table, break the current stalemate, restore power-sharing and work together to address the vast problems facing people with neurological conditions like epilepsy.”
The research also found that epilepsy levels were a third higher in poorer areas compared to wealthier areas around the UK. This link has been seen before, with Public Health England figures from 2001-2014 showing a three-times higher risk of epilepsy-related deaths in people living in poorer areas compared to wealthier areas.
The Seizure paper authors said this link between epilepsy numbers and poorer areas needs more research.