Improvements needed to support people living and working with a rare disease in Northern Ireland: current rare disease support perceived as inadequate

Julie McMullan, Ashleen L Crowe, Caitlin Bailie, Kerry Moore, Lauren S McMullan, Nahid Shamandi, Helen McAneney, Amy Jayne McKnight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Many people living and working with rare diseases describe consistent difficulties accessing appropriate information and support. In this study an evaluation of the awareness of rare diseases, alongside related information and educational resources available for patients, their families and healthcare professionals, was conducted in 2018-2019 using an online survey and semi-structured interviews with rare disease collaborative groups (charities, voluntary and community groups) active across Northern Ireland (NI).

METHODS: This study had 2 stages. Stage 1 was an online survey and stage 2 involved semi-structured interviews both with rare disease collaborative groups in Northern Ireland. The surveys and interviews were used to locate existing resources as well as identify gaps where the development of further resources would be appropriate.

RESULTS: Ninety-nine rare disease collaborative groups engaged with the survey with 31 providing detailed answers. Resources such as information, communication, 'registries', online services, training and improvements to support services were queried. Excellent communication is an important factor in delivering good rare disease support. Training for health professionals was also highlighted as an essential element of improving support for those with a rare disease to ensure they approach people with these unique and challenging diseases in an appropriate way. Carers were mentioned several times throughout the study; it is often felt they are overlooked in rare disease research and more support should be in place for them. Current care/support for those with a rare disease was highlighted as inadequate. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with rare disease collaborative groups. Reoccurring themes included a need for more effective information and communication, training for health professionals, online presence, support for carers, and involvement in research.

CONCLUSIONS: All rare disease collaborative groups agreed that current services for people living and working with a rare disease are not adequate. An important finding to consider in future research within the rare disease field is the inclusion of carers perceptions and experiences in studies. This research provides insight into the support available for rare diseases across Northern Ireland, highlights unmet needs, and suggests approaches to improve rare disease support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315
JournalOrphanet Journal of Rare Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Nov 2020


  • Caregivers
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Northern Ireland
  • Rare Diseases
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


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