A European Union conference on Multiple Sclerosis in Brussels has highlighted the discrepancies in services, healthcare and research across Europe.

At a news conference ahead of the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform, Ireland was criticised along with a number of other countries for having a very low neurologist to patient ratio.

Multiple Sclerosis affects 500,000 people across Europe and has serious long term health, labour market, pension and therapy implications.

But medical services and the daily support of MS patients varies widely.

Figures presented this morning show that Ireland has just 16 neurologists for 10,000 patients.

Sweden, which has 14,000 sufferers has 400 neurologists, while the Czech Republic with 13,000 sufferers has 335 neurologists.

Ireland has only five neurological units compared to Finland, which has 40 units for 7,000 MS patients and Romania which has 72 units for 10,000 patients.

Ireland is also among 11 European countries which has no pension fund for people with MS.

 John Golding, Vice President of the European MS Platform, said he was 'shocked' that Ireland had so few neurologists to cope with the 10,000 MS patients here.

He added that it seems that neurology is 'a closed shop' in Ireland and that the situation needs to be alleviated.

Today's conference draws together scientists, national associations, the European Commission and Parliament with a view to setting out a code of practice for member states.

The meeting will also look at how patients could have equal access to the best possible treatment. It will examine the latest and best therapies across Europe and also look at the economic costs to society as a whole of the prevalence of MS.