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Functional neurological symptoms


If any of the following are present or suspected, please refer the patient to the emergency department (via ambulance if necessary) or seek emergent medical advice if in a remote region.


Stroke/transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

  • Patient with acute neurological symptoms of a stroke; multiple/crescendo TIA
  • New acute symptoms

Progressive loss of neurological function

  • Acute onset severe:
    • ataxia
    • vertigo
    • visual loss
  • Acute severe exacerbation of known MS


  • Status epilepticus/epilepsy with concerning features:
    • first seizure
    • focal deficit post-ictally
    • seizure associated with recent trauma
    • persistent severe headache > 1 hour post-ictally
    • seizure with fever


  • Headache with concerning features:
    • sudden onset/thunderclap headache
    • severe headache with signs of systemic illness (fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness)
    • first severe headache age > 50 years
    • severe headache associated with recent head trauma
    • recent onset headaches in young obese females
    • headaches with papilledema
    • >50 years with raised CRP/ESR or if giant cell arteritis or vasculitis suspected

Movement disorders

  • Ocular

Other referrals to emergency

  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Bilateral limb weakness with or without bladder and/or bowel dysfunction
  • Acute rapidly progressive weakness (Guillain-Barre Syndrome, myelopathy)
  • Delirium/sudden onset confusion with or without fever




  • New onset seizures that require emergency care/advice
  • Status epilepticus (convulsive or non-convulsive)
  • Developmental/cognitive/psychiatric regression accompanying new onset or ongoing epileptic seizures
  • New onset seizure with new neurological deficit (e.g. focal weakness, speech impairment, cognitive impairment) – call 000 for emergency assessment for stroke and transport to the Emergency Department
  • Specific seizure types with epileptic encephalopathy risk e.g. infant with possible epileptic spasms
  • High initial seizure burden (>5 seizures, before first AED), excluding typical absence seizures
  • Neonate / infant (<12-month-old) with epileptic seizure onset


  • Headache with papilledema or change in vision/double vision (excluding established migraine with visual aura) or new neurological examination findings (e.g. sixth nerve palsy, gait disturbance, focal weakness)
  • Headaches that wake at night or headaches immediately on wakening
  • New severe headaches
  • Sudden onset headache reaching maximum intensity within 5 minutes (= explosive onset)
  • Focal neurological features
  • Associated with significant persisting change of personality or cognitive ability or deterioration in school performance

Functional neurological symptoms

  • The patient is unable to mobilize safely or has frequent falls/seizure like attacksAddition

Movement disorder

  • Abrupt onset or deterioration of a movement disorder
  • Acute onset of ataxia / chorea
  • Impairment of function i.e. walking, attend school

Hypotonic infant

  • Tachypnoea (signs of respiratory distress such as accessory muscle use are NOT seen in patients with neuromuscular disorders)
  • Feeding difficulties with weight loss

Gait abnormality, isolated motor delay or focal weakness

  • Acute onset of (or rapidly progressive) weakness e.g. Guillain Barre syndrome, transverse myelitis
  • Acute onset focal weakness (suspected stroke – call 000)
  • Breathing difficulties (NB tachypnoea may be the only sign of respiratory distress in a child with a neuromuscular condition)
  • Feeding or swallowing difficulties
  • Acute foot drop or acute onset focal neuropathy


  • Acute stroke – call 000 and request urgent transfer (timelines apply for t-PA and thrombectomy for embolic/thrombotic stroke)

Other neurological conditions

  • Developmental/ intellectual impairment or behavioural / psychiatric disorders with regression
  • Acute encephalopathy, acute confusional state, altered level of consciousness
  • Refer to HealthPathways or local care pathway
  • A functional neurological disorder (FND) is a condition in which patients experience neurological symptoms such as weakness, sensory symptoms (e.g. pain sensitivity/numbness, sound distortion, visual changes etc), abnormal movements (sometimes seizure-like, ‘non-epileptic seizures’) or loss of awareness / dissociation). The brain of a patient with functional neurological symptom disorder is structurally normal, but functions incorrectly at times, with capacity to return to normal function. A diagnosis of a co-morbid psychological/psychiatric disorder is not required in this condition.  This disorder is considered due to ‘software glitches’ in automatic brain networks, not under direct control of the patient. Symptoms of functional neurological disorders are clinically recognisable but are not categorically associated with a definable organic disease. FND is a clinical diagnosis based on history and examination. Physical examination can demonstrate positive confirmatory findings of FND. If the clinical presentation is consistent, investigations for other conditions are not necessary.
  • In the majority of cases it is thought inappropriate for children to wait more than 6 months for an outpatient initial appointment
  • Referral from a health practitioner other than a General Paediatrician may be accepted if there is limited access to public Paediatric services in the patients’ local area
  • A change in patient circumstance (such as condition deteriorating) may affect the urgency categorisation and should be communicated as soon as possible.

Clinical resources

Patient resources




Minimum Referral Criteria

  • Category 1
    (appointment within 30 calendar days)
    • Unable to attend school or other significant disability due to symptoms
    • High levels of health anxiety (e.g. patient’s condition mimics stroke/epilepsy/neuropathy)


  • Category 2
    (appointment within 90 calendar days)
    • Patients with FNS without the level of disability required for cat 1, referred by a General Paediatrician
    • Request for second opinion for diagnosis
  • Category 3
    (appointment within 365 calendar days)
    • No category 3 criteria

1. Reason for request Indicate on the referral

  • To establish a diagnosis
  • For treatment or intervention
  • For advice and management
  • For specialist to take over management
  • Reassurance for GP/second opinion
  • For a specified test/investigation the GP can't order, or the patient can't afford or access
  • Reassurance for the patient/family
  • For other reason (e.g. rapidly accelerating disease progression)
  • Clinical judgement indicates a referral for specialist review is necessary

2. Essential referral information Referral will be returned without this

  • Description of symptom(s) including date of onset, nature of the symptoms, duration and frequency (eyewitness history where possible)
  • Burden of disease information:
    • is the child missing school? How many days missed in the last month?


3. Additional referral information Useful for processing the referral

Highly desirable Information – may change triage category

  • Note if there are triggers or associations with the events or not. For example, pain, frustration, exercise, feeding, sleep.
  • If the child is in foster care, please provide the name and regional office for the Child Safety Officer who is the responsible case manager.

    Desirable information- will assist at consultation

  • Any allied health assessments
  • Other past medical history
  • Immunisation history
  • Developmental history
  • Medication history
  • Significant psychosocial risk factors (especially parents mental health, family violence, housing and financial stress, department of child safety involvement)
  • Examination findings inclusive of CNS, birth marks or dysmorphology 

    Investigation results:

  • ECG, EEG and neuroimaging if available. (Do not order these tests for the referral if they are not clinically required)
  • If neuroimaging has been done, arrange image transfer to PACS at the hospital the patient is being referred to, with the imaging reports. If electronic imaging transfer is not available, then a CD of the neuroimaging and report should be sent to the neurologist named in the referral.

4. Request

Patient's Demographic Details

  • Full name (including aliases)
  • Date of birth
  • Residential and postal address
  • Telephone contact number/s – home, mobile and alternative
  • Medicare number (where eligible)
  • Name of the parent or caregiver (if appropriate)
  • Preferred language and interpreter requirements
  • Identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Referring Practitioner Details

  • Full name
  • Full address
  • Contact details – telephone, fax, email
  • Provider number
  • Date of referral
  • Signature

Relevant clinical information about the condition

  • Presenting symptoms (evolution and duration)
  • Physical findings
  • Details of previous treatment (including systemic and topical medications prescribed) including the course and outcome of the treatment
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Details of any associated medical conditions which may affect the condition or its treatment (e.g. diabetes), noting these must be stable and controlled prior to referral
  • Current medications and dosages
  • Drug allergies
  • Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs use

Reason for request

  • To establish a diagnosis
  • For treatment or intervention
  • For advice and management
  • For specialist to take over management
  • Reassurance for GP/second opinion
  • For a specified test/investigation the GP can't order, or the patient can't afford or access
  • Reassurance for the patient/family
  • For other reason (e.g. rapidly accelerating disease progression)
  • Clinical judgement indicates a referral for specialist review is necessary

Clinical modifiers

  • Impact on employment
  • Impact on education
  • Impact on home
  • Impact on activities of daily living
  • Impact on ability to care for others
  • Impact on personal frailty or safety
  • Identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Other relevant information

  • Willingness to have surgery (where surgery is a likely intervention)
  • Choice to be treated as a public or private patient
  • Compensable status (e.g. DVA, Work Cover, Motor Vehicle Insurance, etc.)
  • Please note that where appropriate and where available, the referral may be streamed to an associated public allied health and/or nursing service.  Access to some specific services may include initial assessment and management by associated public allied health and/or nursing, which may either facilitate or negate the need to see the public medical specialist.

  • A change in patient circumstance (such as condition deteriorating, or becoming pregnant) may affect the urgency categorisation and should be communicated as soon as possible.

  • Please indicate in the referral if the patient is unable to access mandatory tests or investigations as they incur a cost or are unavailable locally.