Support for Parkinson's sufferers at risk

South Coast health professionals fear specialist nurses will no longer be able to support people with Parkinson's disease as funds for a community-based program dry up.

A trial of neurological nurses in the Shoalhaven has reduced the burden of Parkinson's on those living with the condition, their carers and on the healthcare system, according to the Brain and Mind Research Institute.

But time is running out for people who require the specialist care unless governments inject funds, Associate Professor Simon Lewis said.

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"Specialist nurses form the vital link between families who have been affected by Parkinson's disease and all of the health and welfare providers they need access to," said Prof Lewis, the man behind the Shoalhaven trial.

"It is critical that the government invests now before the problem becomes overwhelming."

Prof Lewis said Parkinson's disease cost the Australian economy $8 billion each year. The number of cases is predicted to rise by 80 per cent over the next 20 years.

Ninety per cent of all healthcare professionals in the Shoalhaven region, including GPs, specialists, community nurses and allied health staff, support the specialist nurse trial.

"Parkinson's disease is a complex condition and support is needed at every stage," Prof Lewis said. "From the time of diagnosis and right through the course of the condition, people living with Parkinson's disease are in desperate need of information, monitoring and support. Specialist nurses provide all of this and ... more."

Parkinson's NSW chief executive Miriam Dixon said the program must be a priority for the NSW government.

"The impressive list of benefits that a specialist Parkinson's nurse brings, including delayed entrance to aged-care facilities and reduced anxiety for patients and carers, reiterates the need for this essential service, especially in the context of rural and remote areas of NSW where medical personnel are already under strain and under-resourced," Ms Dixon said.

A NSW Ministry of Health spokesman said the Shoalhaven pilot was funded by the Commonwealth government and a private benefactor.

The Ministry of Health had met Parkinson's NSW to explore the best ways to ensure patients with Parkinson's disease get appropriate care, the spokesman said.

Parkinson's NSW wanted clarification from the Commonwealth government regarding ongoing funding of the pilot program, and offered to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the pilot, he said.

The federal government did not respond by the Mercury's deadline yesterday.

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