The study, published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, used data collated over more than a decade from primary care providers. The decline in positive diagnoses, which shows a cumulative drop of 47%, is largely attributed to the introduction of specialist services, such as the one at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
The cause of the decline is thought to be due to a combination of factors: better diagnosis, more rigorous decisions about who to treat, and possibly, a decline in brain injury due to the decline in infections following vaccination programmes.
Data collated from 344,718 children aged 0-14 years showed that the annual incidence of epilepsy has fallen by 4-9% year on year from 1994 to 2008. Overall, the number of children diagnosed with epilepsy between 2003 and 2005 was 33% lower than those diagnosed between 1994-1996.
Study author Professor Ruth Gilbert, Director of the Centre for Evidence-based Child Health at the ICH, comments: “Our findings are consistent with those of other European countries and it is very reassuring to see evidence that misdiagnosis rates are down across the board."
"However, epilepsy remains one of the most common and life-limiting neurological conditions to affect children in the UK. It’s important to emphasize that we are not seeing fewer children presenting with epilepsy in our clinics."
“Now we are seeing a much more rigorous approach to diagnosis and this is due in part to guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). It is very troubling for a child and their family to be given an inaccurate diagnosis.”
GOSH is one of only four centres in the country to provide specialist assessment and surgery for children with uncontrolled epilepsy and one of the largest epilepsy surgery centres in Europe.