Variation in access to specialist services for neurosurgical procedures in adults with epilepsy in England, a cohort study


To understand if primary consultation at tertiary epilepsy centres (TEC) in England impacts access to neurosurgical procedures (resective surgery, vagus nerve stimulator [VNS], deep brain stimulator [DBS]).


Adults with epilepsy, and with a first neurology outpatient visit (index) between 01/01/2013 and 31/12/2015, were followed using English Hospital Episode Statistics from index date to 31/12/2019. Analyses were stratified by geographic location, learning disability record, and whether the index or follow-up visits were at a TEC.


84,093 people were included, with mean 5.5 years of follow-up. 12.4% of the cohort had learning disability (range 10.1%-17.4% across regions). TEC consultations varied by National Health Service regions and Clinical Commissioning Groups. 37.5% of people (11.2%-75.0% across regions) had their index visit at a TEC; and, of those not initially seen at a TEC, 10.6% (6.5%-17.7%) subsequently attended a tertiary centre. During follow-up, 11.1% people (9.5%-13.2%) visited a neurosurgery department, and 2.3% of those (0.9%-5.0%) then underwent a neurosurgical procedure, mainly VNS implantation. Median time from index date to first visit at a neurosurgery centre was 7 months (range 6-8 months across regions) and 40 months to procedure (36.5-49 months, 37.0 months in people with index visit at a TEC and 49.0 months otherwise). People with learning disability were less likely to have resective surgery (<0.5% versus 1.0% in those without) and more likely to undergo VNS implantation (5.8% versus 0.8%).


Although clinically recommended for suitable individuals, neurosurgical procedures in epilepsy remain uncommon even after consultation at a TEC. Geographical variation in access to TECs was present.


Epilepsy; Learning disability; Specialist service; Surgery; Vagus nerve stimulation.

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