Tackling MS variance and raising the bar – our 3-year vision

Chair of the ‘MS Service Provision in the UK: Raising the Bar’ steering group, Professor Gavin Giovannoni, sets out a succinct vision for the national initiative over the coming three years.


Why should someone with MS who lives in place B get a different service to someone who lives in place A?I have argued that variance, when it comes to the provision of healthcare services is a euphemism for inequality, representing the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in society. On the other side of the coin, variability creates the engine for change; it is the catalyst for people to do something about the poor services they are providing or receiving - assuming they know about the quality of their service and are willing to do something about it.The first MS variance meeting was very instructive in that it:
  1. brought us together as a wider MS community and allowed us to recognise and reflect on the challenges we face in addressing the variance in the NHS.
  2. was inclusive: there was no hierarchy in terms of the importance of the people who deliver MS services. We identified ourselves as equals, or partners, and included people with MS.
  3. made us realise that we have cognitive biases that need to be addressed to make the community inclusive and more diverse. Diversity of ideas is going to be essential for the next phase of our project.
  4. helped us see that variance is not necessarily bad. We need some variance and ways to measure it so that the outliers at the upper end stimulate change.
  5. allowed us to get away from the NHS rat race and provided quality thinking time, i.e. time to reflect on the task at hand. This has enabled us to set priorities, or specific ‘workstreams’, that will allow us to set key objectives for the programmes of work going forward.

Our vision for the initiative is:

To improve MS services for all people with MS and their families, and to make delivering these services for all involved a rich and rewarding experience.This initiative will be successful if we can achieve the following tangible targets set over a three year period:

Year 1 aim: Quality audit rollout

By the 31st July 2020, we would expect all participating centres to:
  • actively engage in a national quality audit
    • to include providing metrics on the NICE quality standards
    • and several other new metrics, which will be decided on at the meeting
    • to allow us to assess how good or bad we are at achieving our aims
  • adopt the vision of 4+4 and aspire to meet the associated timeframes, for example
    • 75% of patients with uncomplicated MS to be diagnosed within 4 weeks of the specialist MS team receiving a referral letter with a query of suspected MS
    • 75% of pwMS, eligible for DMTs under the NHSE algorithm, to have been offered, counselled and given a definite date for starting a DMT.
    • these timeframes are compatible with the International Brain Health standards and are an optimal target to aim for.
Key outputs year 1
  1. Set the 4+4 ambition, test it and get adopted as a target across the community (at least 20 centres)
  2. Socialise with key policymakers, support/interest groups, industry and healthcare leaders
  3. Create a business case with the costs and benefits of achieving the 4+4 vision and how it will reduce variation.

Year 2: Patient partner programme rollout

At the end of year 2 (31st July 2021), we would expect pilot centres to:
  • have tested a nationally-developed patient partner programme to upskill pwMS on how to navigate their local MS services and how to self-monitor and self-manage their MS.
    • this programme will be developed in partnership with patient organisations and will depend on local champions to make it happen.
    • in an era in which knowledge has been democratised, people with MS should be able to participate in providing, and contributing to their own healthcare.
    • timings will be dependent on the scope of the programme and the funding. We envisage phase 1 being the development of the programme at pilot centres. Phase 2 delivering the programme at pilot centres and phase 3 the rollout of the programme nationally based on learnings and impact from phase 2.
  • Alternatively, the patient partner programme will offer opportunities for pwMS to make connections with others in their area. This programme will be developed in partnership with patient organisations and will depend on:
    • HCPs to engage disempowered patients soon after diagnosis to recognise the importance of taking an active role in their healthcare
    • pwMS in leading the delivery of the programme
Key outputs year 2
  1. Determine how to collect data to meet the ambition
  2. Articulate the KPIs and reporting methodology
  3. Get policy makers to adopt the KPIs within a national framework (NHSE)
  4. Seek funding support and NHSE backing
  5. Centres to produce plans to remodel services to achieve the vision

Year 3: holistic management of MS and ‘no patient left behind’

At the end of year 3 (31st July 2022), we would expect all participating centres to:
  • be working differently and managing MS holistically, including programmes to:
    • screen and manage comorbidities
    • promote lifestyle interventions
  • collect data on these new activities as part of the annual national audit.
  • Adopt a ‘no patient left behind’ philosophy as part of this holistic management, and embed it in all MS services.
    • this will require systems to make sure that all people with MS, who are covered by a particular service, will have access to that service.
    • We don’t want vulnerable, less educated, ethnic minorities or less well off patients to be disadvantaged by the service.
Key outputs year 3
  1. Rollout the use of the KPI to all centres with national reporting
  2. Centres change services with a determined ambition to achieve standards across the UK by the end of year 3

Overarching enablers

LeadershipIt was clear to us at last year’s meeting that for our vision to be realised we need a new generation of leaders to make things happen and we propose to start a leadership training programme to equip people with the skills they need to do thisThe leadership programme will be: It may be worthwhile coming to, and participating in, our meeting just to access the leadership training programme!Sharing best practiceAs always the wheel has usually been invented. Most ideas are not new, but how they have been tested and implemented may be new. We propose to use the Variance platform to share best practice. Why reinvent something if it already exists? We expect all participating centres to:
  • share their successes and failures so that others can learn from them.
  • share their materials and experiences with other centres so as to raise the bar for everyone and to create a collegiate atmosphere.
The MS Academy, as an enabler of education, who already have the infrastructure to make sharing relatively easy, will support this. The MS Academy is educating the MSology community to create a workforce to deliver a world-class MS service for all patients whilst also creating succession planning and future proofing the work being undertaken. The MS Academy already delivers masterclasses for practitioners of differing skill sets, will be able to continue to support this work.→ Read more on the BartsMS blog
Encouraging excellence, developing leaders, inspiring change

MS Academy was established five years ago and in that time has accomplished a huge amount. The six different levels of specialist MS training are dedicated to case-based learning and practical application of cutting edge research. Home to national programme Raising the Bar and the fantastic workstream content it is producing, this is an exciting Academy to belong to.