Today Labour published their manifesto for the 2017 general election. Here are our thoughts on some of their key announcements and how they could impact people with epilepsy.
If elected Labour have said they will make sure that everyone with a long-term health condition has the right to a specialised care plan. The manifesto also states Labour will hold a public enquiry into medicines, including sodium valproate. So what does this all mean for us?
We welcome Labour’s commitment to specialised care plans, although we would like more information on how they intend to make sure this happens. NICE guidelines are clear that this should already be in place. But we know for many people with epilepsy this is not the reality. Specialised care plans are key in helping people gain seizure freedom. We are also pleased to see a promise to hold a public inquiry. Sodium valproate can have devastating impacts on women who take it during pregnancy. We have worked closely with previous governments and other organisations, to raise awareness of the dangers. And there is still much more to be done to address this issue.
But where are the promises for neurology? Disappointingly, it appears neurology has been ignored (again). Neurology, including epilepsy, must be a priority for any new government. The 600,000 people living with epilepsy have been forgotten for far too long, and this needs to change. We now have the National Neurological Advisory Group, a new leadership structure for neurology. This was developed following the removal of the National Clinical Director for Neurology last year. The new government must continue to work closely with this group to bring a better, fairer deal to people with neurological conditions.
Labour’s manifesto acknowledges the large disability employment gap and the need to remove barriers to support people with disabilities into work. Great. However, we are disappointed that it stops short of a commitment to actually halving this gap, a pledge of the previous government. For many people with epilepsy, employment is one of the most significant quality of life issues they face. It’s vital that any new government continues working with employers, disabled people, their friends and families – and the charities that represent them - to support more people into work.
Update: We were pleased to see the publication of Labour’s ‘disability manifesto’ on 3 June. Although not specifically mentioned in the party’s main manifesto, a pledge to halve the disability employment gap is included in the disability manifesto. This is as a positive thing for people with epilepsy.
Welfare and benefits
Labour have pledged to increase employment and support allowance by £30 a week for those in the work related activity group. They have also said they would uphold recent tribunal rulings on Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and overhaul the benefits assessment system. These are all things we have been actively campaigning for, so we are pleased Labour has heard our message. The benefits assessment process in particular is failing people with epilepsy. It is ineffective and inadequate and is unable to capture and reflect what it is to live with epilepsy. It does not reflect the complexity and individual nature of the condition. Any new assessment process must be developed jointly with disabled people, those with long-term health conditions and the organisations that represent them.
So all in all, there are some aspects of Labour’s manifesto which could be hugely beneficial to people with epilepsy. But some vital things are missing. Until neurology and epilepsy are recognised as key priorities for the NHS, people with epilepsy will continue to miss out on the quality healthcare they deserve.