THE number of people in Scotland diagnosed with multiple sclerosis is at the highest rate since records began.
Last year, 530 Scots were diagnosed with the debilitating disease which affects the brain and spinal cord and causes difficulty with movement.
This number is up 83 people from 2014, a 19% increase, and it’s 100 more than when the first record was taken in 2010, an increase of 23%.
In total, 2,731 Scots have been diagnosed with MS and reported to the MS Register since January 2015, with more northerly health board areas recording higher rates of the illness.
Lack of sunlight, which has an adverse effect on vitamin D levels, has previously been linked to soaring numbers of Scots suffering from MS.
In the last six years, the national average of reported cases works out at 8.55 people per 100,000 Scots.
NHS Orkney has the highest incidence rate in the country, with 17 people per 100,000 of population having MS, whilst NHS Highland and Shetland follow closely behind with 10.97 and 10.06 per 100,000 people respectively.
The lowest rate recorded was for NHS Lanarkshire, who reported 6 people per 100,000 diagnosed with MS in their region.
The higher rates found in regions in the north of the country ties in with a noted worldwide trend that MS is more prevalent in places which are further from the equator.
When the report was first conducted in 2010, 430 people were diagnosed across the country.
This had risen by 12% to 480 in 2013 before reaching 530 in 2015.
The average age for diagnosis is 41, which is a significant rise in the mean age in Scotland of 34 which was reported in 1998.
Since 2010, there have been more females than males diagnosed in Scotland, at a ratio of 2.3 to 1.
The latest report released this month by the statistics division of the Scottish NHS says it is not known whether the increase is due to more cases being reported or an actual increase in the number of sufferers.
The report reads: “530 newly diagnosed cases of MS were reported to the Scottish MS Register in 2015, which is the highest number since the Register was started in 2010.
“It is uncertain as to whether this represents an increasing incidence or whether this is due to improved case ascertainment.
“If the numbers of newly diagnosed MS cases are increasing, this will have implications for service development, in particular with a need for additional MS specialists, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, and increased numbers of clinic appointments if Healthcare Improvement Scotland standards of care are to be met.”
The report also outlines that 62.6% of patients had contact with an MS nurse specialist within 10 working days, which is up 10 percent on 2010.
Director of the MS Society for Scotland, Morna Simpkins, said: “While the Scottish MS Register reports an improvement here, we are concerned that a significant proportion of newly-diagnosed people are still waiting longer for appointments.
“There also remains a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing MS specialist services at the point of diagnosis.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “While these figures show that, over the last five years, there has been a steady improvement in newly-diagnosed patients having early contact with an MS clinical nurse, it is clear that we must continue to improve this.”
MS occurs when the immune system attacks the protective layer around the nerves which carry signals between the brain and other areas of the body.
Its effects are wide ranging, from problems with vision to difficulties with balance and movement.
The Scottish Government have invested an additional £2.5 million to improve specialist nursing treatment for MS, including the recruitment of new MS nurses.