A HOSPITAL warning system designed to prevent Parkinson's patients from skipping vital medication if they are admitted for unrelated emergencies such as heart attacks or falls has been rolled out in Scotland's largest health board.

The Parkinson's specialist who helped create the "dashboard" alert tool believes it will reduce the length of time patients spend in hospital and, if successful, offers a blueprint which could be rolled-out across NHS Scotland.

Under the system, any patients with Parkinson's from the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area are automatically flagged on the health board's 'Track' computer system with a yellow hazard triangle. When a hospital consultant or nurse sees the symbol, they can click on it for contact details for the patient's Parkinson's team. Meanwhile, Parkinson's consultants and nurse specialists across the region will also get an automatic alert on their work computer if any of their patients are admitted to a hospital in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, ensuring that they can contact the ward to check that the Parkinson's medication is being administered as required.

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Dr Anne Louise Cunnington, who is based at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, worked with the health board's IT experts to design the system after a UK-wide Parkinson’s Audit of patients highlighted concerns over how quickly they were being given their medication on admission to hospital for unrelated conditions. Missing just a few doses of their regular drugs can have a very serious impact symptoms, such as tremors, speech and mobility.

Dr Cunnington said: “Patients with Parkinson’s, like any other patients, can be admitted to hospital for any number of reasons, such as a heart attack or serious infection, not necessarily because of their Parkinson’s. This means the focus of their treatment would be on the primary reason for their admission.

"If you look at patients' feedback they often are dissatisfied with the care they receive in hospital and it's often to do with medication. I suspect it's because staff are not necessarily familiar with Parkinson's and its complications, the drugs management, and maybe they don't always remember that for the vast majority of people with Parkinson's, medication is the only way of controlling their symptoms and that medication must be administered at fixed times every day."

Around one in 500 people in Scotland have Parkinson's disease. In a UK-wide audit of patients, half said they did not always get their medication on time while in hospital and 39 per cent said this led to a deterioration in their condition.

Analysis of hospital admissions among over-65s between 2009 and 2013 in England also indicated that those with Parkinson's averaged a longer length of stay than those without it.

Dr Cunnington said: "You can't necessarily put that down to not getting their meds, but we do know that they are twice as likely to have an unscheduled admission and cost the NHS three and a half time more and spend 73 per cent longer in hospital than the age-matched control group.

"What we want to see whether this dashboard does reduce length of stay."

The new system launched in mid-September and Dr Cunnington believes it is already making a difference.

She said: “It is very simple, but very effective. The dashboard has also helped raise awareness amongst staff and has brought this issue to the forefront of their mind.

“Not only does this improve things for the patients themselves, but it also saves money for the NHS as it’s proven that given the right medication, hospital stays will be shorter and beds will be freed up for other patients. It really is a win, win situation.”