Thursday 14 December 2017

Brain-injury crash victims wait year for rehab care

Louise Hogan

The Department of Health confirmed that a review of rehabilitation services is due to be published in the new year

ROAD crash victims left with severe brain damage are being forced to wait up to a year for vital rehabilitation treatment.

The extent of the delays -- which range from a month to 12 months for those seriously injured in collisions -- are revealed as the country's only specialist full-time facility awaits Health Minister Mary Harney's green light for a long-promised new hospital.

Dr Aine Carroll, a consultant and chair of the medical board of the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dun Laoghaire, warned the specialist facility addressing brain injuries, spinal cord damage and amputations from accidents or illness was completely under-resourced.

And she said the NRH was only dealing with the "tip of the iceberg" as they just saw the worst cases.

The waiting list is continuing to grow -- despite 2010 being one of the safest years on record in terms of road fatalities.

It is estimated that eight people are injured for every person that dies on our roads.

Brain injury victims can face a wait of up to four months for rehab treatment. Those with spinal-cord injury are transferred within a month, while people in need of high dependency services due to severe brain damage face a waiting time of between six to 12 months.

In some cases, patients with brain injuries are transferred to their local hospital or nursing home to wait admission to NRH.

There are currently 153 people -- including children -- on the list to access all four of the specialist programmes provided by the NRH.

"The biggest waiting list is for brain injury because we have simply got not enough beds. That is not just traumatic brain injuries, that is the young strokes, that is the brain tumours, the inflammatory conditions -- a huge spectrum of acquired brain injury, and quite literally we are only able to deal with the tip of the iceberg," Dr Carroll said.

The hospital blamed the waiting times on the lack of beds and delays in discharging patients due to insufficient community-based rehabilitation services.

It is estimated 1,000 beds are needed for the population but there are only 109 beds in use at the hospital, with an 11-bed ward currently closed due to lack of funding.

The €110m redevelopment of the hospital first promised more than two decades ago has failed to materialise.

Planning permissions for the 235-bed new hospital was secured in 2008, with the tender process for building contractors completed last year. "The most economically advantageous tender was chosen and as far as we are concerned we are just waiting for the Minister for Health to give us the go-ahead to build the hospital," Dr Carroll pointed out. "It could start, quite literally, within three weeks."

The Health Services Executive (HSE) stated the redevelopment of the hospital was not included in the current national development plan.

The Department of Health confirmed a review of rehabilitation services was due to be published in the new year.


Dr Carroll pointed out that as the new facility was promised any strategic developments within the old building had not been funded for up to a decade.

"That means the people who are the most vulnerable in society in many ways are being disregarded," she said.

More than 900 inpatients and up to 6,000 outpatients access the hospital each year, with 66,773 people suffering serious, life-changing injuries in road crashes since they were first recorded in 1979.

Around a fifth of inpatients at the NRH are admitted due to a road accident.

Irish Independent

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