A LIFE-SAVING hospital unit for those with epilepsy is lying idle despite promises it would be open at the end of this year.
The state-of-the-art unit -- built at a cost of €500,000 last year -- cannot open because the staff needed to operate it have not been recruited.
The unit would provide a lifeline for 100 people with uncontrolled epilepsy, allowing their seizures to be monitored and treated while also identifying patients suitable for surgery.
Mike Glynn, chief executive of Epilepsy Ireland, condemned the failure to open the unit at Cork University Hospital despite a promise by the HSE that it would be operational now.
There are 130 epilepsy-related deaths in Ireland each year and about half of these are linked to not controlling the disease.
"Earmarked funds were provided to the hospital specifically for the purpose of recruiting staff to open the unit," he said.
"The funding is not intended for any other purpose within the hospital's service but Cork University Hospital has taken the liberty of using the funding elsewhere, which is outrageous."
Plenty of public hospitals have to break employment ceilings in order to deliver services. For public hospitals coming within budget is what matters now, and that often means moving funding around. Mr Glynn warned that there were "100 people with highly complex and uncontrolled epilepsy awaiting admission to the unit".
"These people are suffering unnecessarily in the face of another broken promise by their public health service. We need a written commitment that the funding for the recruitment of nurses and EEG technicians to staff the unit is safe.
"Don't let these patients wait for a day longer."
Grainne O'Connor (27) from Shangarry, near Midleton in east Cork -- who is blind from birth and suffers from frequent seizures -- highlighted the need for the unit earlier this year.
She was eventually sent to a unit in the UK and this has allowed doctors to assess her for possible surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
Grainne's father, Tom, said her neurologist would soon take her file to Beaumont Hospital in the hope she can be operated on. "It is a disgrace that this unit is not open. The HSE and the hospital reneged on their promise," he added.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said yesterday that the full funding for the unit "remains earmarked in CUH's budget and is available to run the unit once the recruitment process is complete".
"The recruitment process of nursing staff is in the final stages. It is the intention to have it functioning in early 2014," she added.