Trapped: quadriplegic mum waits over a year in hospital for bed in rehab unit
Helen needs physiotherapy but sits in a chair five hours a day
The family of a Dublin woman who has been in an acute hospital for more than a year have spoken of their distress at her ongoing plight.
Helen Grace, from Blackrock, has been in an acute bed in St Vincent's Hospital since October 2018 after suffering a spinal injury which has left her a quadriplegic.
She cannot be discharged to receive the specialist rehabilitation care she needs because there is no suitable bed free in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.
The rehab hospital has just one bed - the only one in the country - which is staffed to care for a patient like her who is connected to a ventilator which provides her with a vital oxygen supply.
Mrs Grace, who is in her seventies and fully mentally alert, is among a group of patients with particular health conditions who are trapped in hospital because of a lack of specialist facilities, leaving them slipping through the cracks of the health system.
Mrs Grace, her husband Ned and children are grateful to Vincent's Hospital staff for the good and kind care she is receiving. But they are extremely concerned that she has been unable to be transferred to receive the specialist treatment essential for her recovery.
Her daughter Leanne said: "My mother must be tube fed but if she received the specialist rehabilitation she could receive the treatment she needs to help her swallow.
"She is receiving very good care in the hospital but it is totally unsuitable for her needs and she is not getting any physiotherapy.
"She sits in a chair for five hours a day."
Mrs Grace lived a full and active life before her injury in July 2018 having been on a trip to New Zealand a few months earlier.
She was receiving treatment for breast cancer, which was under control, but it caused bone damage which contributed to her spinal injury.
"Mum will need breathing support for the rest of her life. Since October last year she has been in the intensive care unit or high dependence unit of St Vincent's Hospital. While she has a very good relationship with everyone there and she is getting good care, she is not getting the right care.
"The length of this delay has caused substantial stress and I truly believe such a delay is re-traumatising. Mum has enough challenges without this," she said.
"We have tried everything to speed things up. Nothing works. We have received great support from Spinal Injuries Ireland and the National Rehabilitation Hospital but the issue is so severe neither are able to move things forward."
The National Rehabilitation Hospital is being redeveloped on a phased basis. It is included in the €1bn shareout for capital spending for various health projects recently announced by Health Minister Simon Harris.
A spokeswoman confirmed a second bed for a ventilator-dependent patient will not be ready until April or May.
There is currently a list of 236 patients waiting for admission to the hospital, 13 of whom have been waiting for more a year. Three have been waiting for two to three years.
The first phase of the redevelopment with 120 beds will open in the spring. This will allow patients to transfer from the old facility and provide 10 more beds.
It will not be until the second phase is built that substantial extra beds will become available but it is still only at the design stage.
Spinal Injuries Ireland estimated that in early October there were around 47 patients who have sustained a spinal cord injury who remain in an acute hospital waiting for rehabilitation in the Dún Laoghaire hospital.
It is mainly due to prolonged negotiations on community care packages and house adaptation grants.
Other delays are due to waiting for a medical card.
Dr Eimear Smith, medical director of the Spinal Cord Rehabilitation Service at Dún Laoghaire, said: "The current delays which patients are facing both to access and discharge from the NRH are not acceptable.
"The delays to admission frequently result in complex medical complications as well as undue anxiety to patients and their families at a time when they are extremely worried about their futures."
A spokeswoman for the support organisation said prolonged waits for specialised care leads to increased risk of avoidable complications such as pressure ulcers, contractures and urinary tract infections and an undue psychological impact on the individual and their family.
"These avoidable complications can, in turn, increase further the length of stay for these patients while they are treated, thereby delaying the admission of subsequent patients.
"Families are being left in a vacuum not knowing what the next steps will be or when," she said.