Objective: To assess the diagnostic and therapeutic difficulties in patients with epilepsy who had never come into contact with specialist services.
Methods: Assessment was offered to 676 patients diagnosed as having epilepsy and receiving anti-epileptic drug therapy (AED), who had no previous contact with the local epilepsy services. Two hundred and seventy-five patients gave consent and attended for reassessment. We identified the proportion of patients (a) who had previously seen a neurologist, (b) in whom the diagnosis of epilepsy was not secure, (c) in whom planned AED withdrawal could be considered (d) in whom seizure control could be improved.
Results: 53/275 (19.3%) of those attending for review had previously been seen by a neurologist. 87/275 (31.6%) patients ultimately received continued specialist care. Diagnostic doubt was expressed in 3/53 (5.6%) and 42/222 (18.9%) of patients diagnosed by neurologist and non-specialist, respectively. Of 133/219 (60.7%) of patients whose epilepsy was in remission, only 6 elected to withdraw or change medication. Of 18 patients with diagnostic doubt who accepted follow-up, 12 successfully stopped treatment. 17/55 (30.9%) patients with active epilepsy (10 partial, 7 generalised) achieved at least a 1 year remission consequent upon treatment in this clinic. In 15 cases this was a first ever remission.
Conclusion: Approximately 55% of the population of adults receiving treatment for epilepsy have never received specialist advice. Reassessment of these patients uncovers diagnostic uncertainty, failure to classify (leading to sub-optimal therapy) and lack of information and advice about all aspects of epilepsy care. The development of integrated services for people with epilepsy (PWE) must take account of this hidden need. The new General Medical Services contract for general practitioners will bring this need to our attention, and our experience will help predict the measures required to deal with the under-treatent and mistreatment of this group. The majority of PWE, not currently receiving shared care, merit reassessment and approximately one-third will require continued specialist care. Existing services do not have the capacity to process a marked increase in rate of referral. This project informs prioritisation of referrals and service reorganisation.