Rehabilitation services for people with brain injuries are underdeveloped and underfunded and this is only adding to the country's hospital waiting lists, it has been claimed.
According to Barbara O'Connell, CEO of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Ireland, community-based rehabilitation services are urgently needed for those with brain injuries and their carers.
ABI Ireland is the country's leading provider of community based neuro-rehabilitation services for people who have acquired a brain injury in Ireland. Around 13,000 people acquire a brain injury every year here as a result of, for example, road traffic accidents, stroke, assaults, tumours and seizures.
"A part of the ongoing hospital waiting list problem is that some people with an acquired brain injury who need neuro-rehabilitation remain in hospital beds for long periods, as there are no appropriate step-down services for them.
"We need dedicated regional neuro-rehabilitation services, together with specialist community supports, so that people can transition in a timely manner to proper care in the community," Ms O'Connell explained.
She pointed out that ‘only a very small minority' of those with brain injuries receive rehabilitation.
"Most either enter a nursing home which is not equipped to meet their needs, or are cared for at home by families who have no expertise, information or support," she said.
She noted that Ireland currently has the lowest number of consultants in rehabilitation medicine in Europe.
Ms O'Connell insisted that the proper development of rehabilitation services would speed up access to hospital beds for all patients, and would also ensure support for the thousands of family carers who provide 24-hour care to their loved ones.
Ms O'Connell made her comments at a national conference for carers in Dublin this week, which was organised by ABI Ireland. Research carried out by the organisation has found a high level of depression and anxiety among family members who become full-time carers.
One carer in the midlands explained that he gave up his full-tme job to look after his partner as he felt there was no other option.
"It was soul destroying that we had to wait seven months for a bed in the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH), while during all that time she occupied an acute bed in a general hospital. However, once my partner was discharged from the NRH, apart from four hours of occupational therapy from ABI Ireland every week, there was nothing. I was left to cope on my own and this gap in services needs to be recognised and needs to change," he said.
Also speaking at the conference, which was held in Croke Park, clinical psychologist, Dr Eddie Murphy, described families and carers as ‘part of the unseen trauma of an acquired brain injury'.
"They get burnt out and need the support of a health system. They are saving the nation a fortune through their heroic work. This cannot continue and we need to plan and resource rehabilitation services for the future," he commented.
For more information on ABI Ireland, click here