'We have 56 beds in neuro rehab... but we really need 280'
Ireland is lagging behind the rest of Europe in its medical provision for patients with brain and neurological injuries, a leading doctor claims.
Dr Jacinta McElligott of the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) says Irish patients are "under-served" due to a lack of beds and specialist staff.
The NRH in Dun Laoghaire is the only hospital with a dedicated rehabilitation team looking after neurological injuries.
Patients include those who have survived devastating car crashes, drowning, sporting and work accidents and those with serious neuro conditions caused by illness.
"We have a very skilled staff but we don't have enough with 56 beds [for brain injuries] only," Dr McElligott said.
"So for many patients with complex needs, we don't have the capacity and staff to provide the services they need.
"If a patient is left a year waiting, it's not okay, but at the end of the day we have 56 beds and need 280.
"If there's an investment from government, could this situation be improved? Yes.
"We've all been struck by the distress around the waiting lists and trolley times and what's needed is beyond my area," she added.
"I want to reassure people that on the ground clinicians and hospital staff are working with the HSE to try to build up the infrastructure to catch up and meet demands across the country.
"But across the board, Ireland is under-served compared to other European countries regarding consultants per capita and with the capacity of medical teams in programmes and at the NRH. We have the lowest number of rehabilitation consultants per capita in the EU and this is the tip of the iceberg.
"The number of teams with expertise to support complex services is limited, as is the number of occupational or physical therapists."
Currently there are 110 beds at the hospital, including the 56 for brain injury patients and the rest are for spinal injuries, eight beds for paediatric patients and the rest for prosthetic injuries.
The 56 beds are devoted to brain injury patients but that does not cover multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions in the programme.
"We need regional and community teams," said Dr McElligott.
"People may have to wait an extended period and in the meantime they're receiving services that may not be complex specialist rehabilitation.
"They may not have a team round them and we may not be able to bring them into the NRH as we hope to but we try to reach out and manage the situation as best we can."
The Neurological Alliance of Ireland is currently campaigning for more services to be rolled out to assist the 25,000 patients struggling each year to access rehabilitation.
However, specialists continue having to manage vast waiting lists and trying to ensure rehabilitation is available in communities that are often under-resourced and short of medical staff.
The NRH is set for a redevelopment to be completed by late 2019 but this still this does not answer the lack of community services.
The hospital expansion is being funded in partnership with the HSE and the NRH Foundation.