Over 200 brain and spinal patients face agonising wait as beds closed
Financial issues and ongoing lack of staff and resources blamed as patients are left in limbo by shutting of hospital beds and units
More than 200 patients with serious spinal and brain injuries will face a longer wait for treatment after the closure of beds at the National Rehabilitation Hospital.
A lack of finance and resources is being blamed for the closures as the hospital, in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, does not have the required number of staff to manage increased patient workloads.
It is one of a number of hospitals across the health service where units are not being fully utilised because of resource issues and a shortage of nurses.
This means thousands of patients waiting for life-changing treatment and surgeries are being left in limbo because specialist units around the country are not able to operate efficiently.
Rolling theatre closures are in place in two of the country's biggest children's hospitals. Facilities at St James's Hospital, Dublin, are also regularly affected by rolling closures as management looks to deal with staff and resource issues.
All the other major hospital groups around the country said regular resourcing and staffing challenges prevent some units being run at full capacity. Many of these lead to the temporary closure of operating theatres and units.
A high volume of complex cases being managed by specialist staff at the National Rehabilitation Hospital means extra staff and resources are being directed to fewer patients than before in order to provide intensive rehabilitation.
Patients with debilitating and crippling injuries that affect mobility and quality of life will be among those most severely hit by the 12 bed closures as 219 people wait for treatment.
A spokeswoman for the National Rehabilitation Hospital said 20 people have been on a waiting list for more than a year to access treatment there - 59 have been waiting more than six months.
"On the basis of a rise in patient acuity, it is not possible to provide the appropriate level of intensity required to deliver quality complex specialist rehabilitation programmes within the current staffing levels," she said.
"Additional staffing resources are required to enable the hospital to provide a safe and appropriate level of care to patients within its current bed capacity and to ensure the National Rehabilitation Hospital beds can be made fully available at all times."
The hospital has held discussions with the HSE about recruiting extra staff.
The HSE said it is attempting to address concerns regarding funding as well as providing specialist supports.
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath's spokeswoman said he is aware of the issue, adding: "The provision of safe care is of paramount importance to the National Rehabilitation Hospital and the HSE."
More patients are now being treated in acute units but these do not provide the same specialist rehabilitation. The National Rehabilitation Hospital is the only hospital of its type in the country providing specialist rehabilitation services delivered by expert teams.
It comes as significant pressure falls on the creaking hospital system. The number of hospitals with cancelled operations is increasing as they struggle with resources and financial constraints.
A total of 19 hospitals had more operations cancelled last year compared to 2015.
When contacted individually, all seven of the country's hospital groups said they are affected by resource and staff issues. In some instances this leads to the closure of units.
A spokesperson for Temple Street Children's Hospital, Dublin, said one theatre is closed there every week due to a national shortage of nursing staff. The closures have been ongoing since May 2015.
At Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, there have been rolling theatre closures since July 2015. Since January, eight of the nine theatres have been operational every week as it alters the closure of units every seven days.
Nursing vacancies have also accounted for rolling theatre closures at St James's Hospital over the past 18 months. In the last six months of 2016 there were an average of 2.5 theatre closures every day and 31 bed days lost in the intensive care unit.
Beaumont Hospital and other units in the Dublin Midlands, University of Limerick, South/South West, Saolta and Ireland East hospital groups also said they have units that are not fully utilised because of staffing issues.