Hike in waiting list for rehab beds as patients suffer
The number of people with life-changing injuries waiting for admission to the National Rehabilitation Hospital has risen sharply.
Figures due to be published later this month show 215 people on a waiting list for the hospital last year, compared with 151 people in 2016.
Patients, many of whom are recovering from brain or spinal injuries, or from debilitating strokes, are also waiting longer. More than a third on the list were waiting for more than six months, and one in four for more than 12 months.
The long wait times are exacerbated by some patients having to wait weeks or months for special home care packages to be signed off by the Health Service Executive before they can be discharged, according to the Irish Patients' Association, which obtained the figures.
The 102 bed-hospital in South Dublin said that at any one time, up to eight patients who were ready for discharge could not leave, which left around 8pc of its beds unavailable.
The rising waiting list comes as the Government published its plan last week to develop two major trauma centres in the country, which will increase the demand for specialist rehabilitation beds.
"We are mindful that with the national trauma centre, lives will be saved which in turn will further increase demand for rehabilitation beds.
"If the pressure for beds in 2018 follows the 2017 trend, then the lack of timely access to these expert services will have its impact on these very vulnerable group of patients," said Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients' Association.
The existing National Rehabilitation Hospital is due to be replaced with a new 120-bed facility, but Acquired Brain Injury Ireland believes at least 200 beds are needed.
Chief executive Barbara O'Connell said: "Patients waiting in acute hospitals who are not equipped to deal with them can end up with limbs which have contracted which then have to be painfully straightened at a later stage, infections, behavioural challenges and general decline."
She said that while trauma centres were "so welcome", not enough attention was paid to what happened to a trauma patient once their life had been saved.
"No access to proper rehabilitation can be a living death for some and catastrophic for their families too," she added.
The National Rehabilitation Hospital hopes to complete the new 120-bed facility by 2020 and has further plans for a 235-bed facility.