Many of the 25,000 patients per year in Ireland who suffer from brain-related conditions such as stroke or multiple sclerosis are being denied proper rehabilitation, with some young people unnecessarily having to live in nursing homes.
Their plight was highlighted yesterday in a new campaign, 'We Need Our Heads Examined', by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI), the national umbrella for neurological organisations.
Prof Mark Delargy, clinical director at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, said: "Rehabilitation services in Ireland are completely underdeveloped.
"Not everyone who needs to can access vital specialist rehabilitation in a hospital setting, and when they are discharged, they often receive little or no additional supports in the community.
"For many, there is no other option than to be inappropriately placed in a nursing home with little chance of gaining any independence."
He said these patients have now suffered "10 years of empty promises" and the consequence is that too many are left unable to speak or return to work. They are living with disabilities that are preventable, he added.
Ireland should have 270 inpatient beds for its population but there are less than half that number and none outside Dublin. There should be four regional inpatient rehabilitation centres but there are none. The country needs nine rehabilitation teams and there are only three, he claimed.
Reinhard Schaler, whose son Padraig suffered a brain injury in a road traffic accident, told how he was forced to travel to Germany for treatment.
"We are condemning people with acquired brain injuries to a future of neglect, disability and lost opportunity," he warned.
"We cannot continue to deny access to vital services and we can no longer be expected to travel overseas to avail of them."