Find out more about health professionals working with people living with neurological conditions. You can read about what they do and, if appropriate, how to access their services.
The word ‘neuro’ means nerve and nervous system, and the people who specialise in this section of medicine prefix their speciality with ‘neuro’, for example neurosurgeon, neuropsychologist etc.
A neurologist is a medical doctor who does not perform operations but specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of people with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, dystonia and headache.
How do I see a neurologist?
If you are admitted to hospital in an emergency, for example if you have meningitis, you may see a neurologist as part of your tests and investigations on admission. You may also have follow-up appointments afterwards to check your progress.
If it is not an emergency, and your GP feels your condition needs further investigation by a neurologist, he or she will refer you.
Not every hospital has a neurologist. Occasionally neurologists make regular visits and hold clinics in local hospitals, however, if you require further specialist investigations it is likely you will have to go you nearest neurological unit.
A neuro-opthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in the treatment and diagnosis of eye problems connected to a neurological condition.
How do I see a neuro-opthalmologist?
Usually you would see an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who treats and diagnoses eye problems) or a neurologist first, who will refer you on if necessary. Neuro-opthalmologists tend to do specific investigations and work in eye hospitals or neuroscience centres.
A neurophysiologist is a medical doctor who specialises in testing the electrical functions of the brain, the spinal cord and the nerves in the limbs and muscles.
The neurophysiologist is responsible for examining and writing reports on all the tests done in the neurophysiology department, and interpreting the results for the doctors who referred the person to them. They perform most nerve conduction studies, EMG (electromyography) recordings and EEG (electroencephalogram) recordings to diagnose epilepsy.
How do I access neurophysiology services?
You will be referred for tests by your neurologist.
Most clinical neurophysiology departments are based in larger hospitals that have specialised units staffed with neurologists and neurosurgeons. However, some smaller general hospitals are able to provide a local service.
Many people with a neurological condition experience psychological problems, either as a direct result of injury to the brain, or a response to the difficulties that the injury or illness has caused.
Neuropsychiatrists and neuropsychologists specialise in treating patients with neurological conditions and helping them to deal with the psychological effects of illness or injury.
What is a neuropsychiatrist?
A neuropsychiatrist is a medical doctor who has trained in the field of psychiatry and has a special interest in the behaviour and psychological effects of neurological diseases or injury to the brain. As they are medically trained, neuropsychiatrists will approach your treatment from a medical point of view and are best placed to help you consider whether, for example, a particular drug might help you.
What is a neuropsychologist?
A neuropsychologist is a psychologist who specialises in the functions of the brain, particularly memory, concentration and problem solving. Their work involves testing and assessing the psychological problems people may experience following an injury or neurological disorder, and helping them in their rehabilitation.
Unlike a neuropsychiatrist, a neuropsychologist is not usually a medical doctor. With a background in psychology, a neuropsychologist can help you decide whether a psychological approach such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be helpful to you.
How can I see a neuropsychiatrist or a neuropsychologist?
You should seek a referral from your GP or specialist.
A neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who has further training specifically in the area of the brain and spine, and performs operations. Some have furthered their interests in specific areas or conditions of the nervous system, such as epilepsy surgery, vascular surgery and neck surgery.
How do I see a neurosurgeon?
If you need to see a neurosurgeon, your GP or neurologist will refer you.
Not every hospital has a neurosurgeon, in fact there are only 31 neuroscience units in the UK and around 110 neurosurgeons. This is why waiting lists tend to be long. Occasionally neurologists make regular visits and hold clinics in local hospitals, however, if you require further specialist investigations it is likely you will have to go to your nearest neuro unit. See our UK map for your nearest neuroscience unit.
After neurosurgery, you may have follow-up appointments with your neurosurgeon to discuss your recovery and further treatment options.
Occupational therapists help people regain their independence and adapt to any disability. They can recommend special tools to help people perform everyday tasks such as washing, dressing, cooking, eating and using equipment more easily, and can assess whether you need a wheelchair and what type you might need. They can also recommend adaptations to the house, such as hand rails, bath seats and stair lifts.
An occupational therapist who specialises in working with people with neurological conditions is called a neuro occupational therapist.
How do I see an occupational therapist?
If you have not already been referred, you could ask your GP or local council for a referral. You could also choose to see an occupational therapist privately.
You can find out more information about accessing occupational therapy on the NHS Choices website.
Or see the Find an OT page on the British Association of Occupational Therapists website.
Always make sure that your occupational therapist is registered with the regulatory body, the Health and Care Professions Council.
A physiotherapist works with people who have been injured or disabled, to help restore movement, mobility and normal body function.
A physiotherapist who specialises in treating people with neurological conditions is called a neurophysiotherapist.
How do I see a physiotherapist?
You may be referred to a physiotherapist following an injury or stroke. Physiotherapists who specialise in neurological conditions will be linked to the local neurological centres – see our map for your nearest centre.
If you have not been referred, you can request a referral from your GP. You might also consider seeing a physiotherapist privately.
Physiotherapy is often restricted for people with a long-term condition on the NHS. You will need to check availability in your local area.
See the page on accessing physiotherapy on the NHS Choices website.
If you are choosing a private physiotherapist, note that all physiotherapists must be registered with the Health & Care Professionals Council. You can visit the HPC website to check the register.
PhysioFirst is a directory of private chartered physiotherapists (this is the trading name of the Organisation of Chartered Physiotherapists in Private Practice).
Physio2u is a directory of physiotherapists offering private treatment, on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website. It allows you to search for a neuro specialist physiotherapist.
Staff in the radiology department of a hospital deal with scanning equipment and interpreting the scans.
A radiographer is a specialist trained to control the equipment used for scans such as angiograms, MRI scans, CT scans, PET scans and X-rays.
A radiologist is a specialist doctor who interprets scans. Radiologists write reports to be sent to the doctor or specialist who requested the scan.
Radiographers who specialise in scanning the brain and spine are called neuroradiographers and radiologists who interpret brain and spine scans are called neuroradiologists.
How do I get a scan?
If you have symptoms that require further investigation, your GP will refer you for a scan.
Not all hospitals have scanners, especially Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners. These are generally situated in larger district or specialised hospitals. The scanning equipment is very expensive and requires specialist staff to operate the machines.
Because the scanning machine is in such high demand, the radiologists have to prioritise when people have their scan.
You can find out more in our fact sheet on Brain and spine scans.
This is a nurse who specialises in a particular neurological condition. Within neurology, there are specialist nurses for:
- Brain tumour
- Motor neurone disease
- Movement disorders
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Subarachnoid haemorrhage
- Generic neurological conditions
How do I see a specialist nurse?
Specialist nurses may be employed by your local Primary Care Trust or the neurological centre locally or regionally. They will have links with the local neurological centre so this is probably the best way to identify them. Or you can ask your specialist.
A speech and language therapist is a specialist health professional who assesses symptoms, plans treatment and treats people with communication and swallowing problems.
With language problems such as loss of speech (aphasia), the speech and language therapist will aim to assess and treat the underlying language problems. At the same time they will help the person minimise the difficulties these problems give them in everyday life.
With speech problems, the therapist’s aim will usually be to make speech as understandable as possible. They will begin by making a detailed assessment of the person’s speech and will then decide what can be done to improve things for them.
How do I see a speech and language therapist?
You should seek a referral from your GP or specialist.
Speech and language therapists are usually based at a local hospital or rehabilitation unit. They may also be accessed via your GP or local community clinic.