Neurosurgery is one of the newest branches of medical science and can offer relief to a range of previously untreatable conditions. However, with only just over 100 neurosurgeons and around 30 specialist centres providing services for the whole of the UK, accessing this treatment can be a long and complicated process.
What can neurosurgery treat?
Neurosurgery treats a range of problems associated with the central nervous system. Generally these fall into two categories – brain, and spinal conditions:
- Brain – brain tumours, haemorrhage, hydrocephalus malformations and facial pain
- Spinal – neck problems, sciatica, back pain, spinal claudication, spinal stenosis and ‘slipped discs’
This article on choosing a neurosurgeon is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
However, recent advances in medical science means neurosurgeons can now also treat some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
How do I get treatment?
If you feel you may need the services of a neurosurgeon, you should first contact your GP who will assess your condition and make a referral if required. If you do not agree with your GP, you may ask for a second opinion.
You should be aware that given the limited number of neurosurgeons available, you may have to wait a long time for a non-urgent appointment.
Once you have had your consultation with the neurosurgeon, you may experience further delays waiting for tests before the surgery can proceed. As with the surgeons themselves, resources such as MRI and CT scanners and the specialist staff required to operate them, are scarce and will be allocated to urgent cases first.
Moreover, the diagnosis of a neurological disorder can involve a series of such tests, with each yielding a small but vital clue to the overall picture. As a result, it can be a long and complex process to achieve a diagnosis and proceed to surgery.
It should be noted that the above process covers ‘elective’, non-urgent neurosurgery only. Naturally, if you have an urgent or life-threatening condition, such as a brain tumour, you will be seen promptly and your tests and surgery will be given priority.
How can I speed things up?
The simplest way to speed things up is to ‘go private’. This will help you avoid a long wait to see a neurosurgeon and have the relevant tests. An initial consultation will cost between £100 and £250, with test prices varying depending on the nature and complexity of the test.
Often there is the option to have just the first consultation privately and subsequent treatment on the NHS. With so few neurosurgeons available, it is likely that you would see the same specialist, only somewhat quicker.
How do I choose a neurosurgeon?
There are several factors you should consider when making your decision to see a neurosurgeon – especially if you have the freedom of choice given by private treatment:
- Location – if your treatment is likely to involve a series of visits for tests and treatments, it’s worth choosing a hospital that’s convenient for you and your potential visitors. Remember, this may not necessarily be the closest, but may be the one with the best public transport links. You can find a map of all specialist neurosurgical units at www.brainandspine.org.uk.
- Reputation – Your GP and other health professionals can provide information about individual neurosurgeons, including their specialities. You can also talk to previous patients through local support groups to get an idea of their experience with a particular neurosurgeon.
- Availability – you may find that your closest neurosurgeon will not be able to see you, or schedule your operation as quickly as one a little further away. You should always check availability before you make your choice.
Neurosurgery is a major procedure so you should do all you can to minimise the inconvenience, the risks, and the potential worry of the treatment. With just a little pre-planning you can make the whole experience far less stressful and more rewarding.