Concerns as opening of stroke unit delayed again

A stroke unit due to open in Cork last month after two years of delays will remain closed until at least September.

The round-the-clock unit at Cork University Hospital was set to become available to patients at the end of June after being hit by a series of hold-ups since 2011.

Dr Áine Carroll, HSE national director of clinical strategy and programmes, told the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee in May that the unit would be open last month.

However, the introduction of a temporary day surgical unit at the hospital, and claims of inadequate staffing levels, have caused yet more delays to the opening of the stroke unit.

The opening of the facility, which will eventually work in tandem with another unit at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork City, was to bring to nine the number of units set up via the HSE National Stroke Programme.

The HSE aimed to establish units in Dublin, the midlands, the north east, the south east, the west, Cork, and Limerick.

The HSE’s joint national clinical lead for stroke, Prof Joe Harbison, said the opening of the CUH unit had been slower than aimed for because of the temporary day surgical unit. However, it is understood inadequate staffing, technical and data protection issues have also impacted on the situation.

Barry Dempsey, Irish Heart Foundation chief executive, said any delays to such a vital service are unacceptable and put patients needlessly at risk.

“We are extremely concerned on behalf of stroke patients to learn of further delays to the opening of a second stroke unit in Cork in CUH.

“A stroke is a serious medical emergency and immediate medical treatment in a stroke unit can mean the difference between recovery, death or permanent dependency.

“We will be monitoring the situation in CUH closely to ensure stroke patients have access to the best care for the best chance of recovery from this serious and often fatal illness.

“Currently, almost 2,000 people die from stroke in Ireland, but we know providing stroke unit care across all acute hospitals could save up to 500 lives annually.”

A HSE South spokesperson said CUH is providing a “full and comprehensive range of services for the victims of stroke” and that the service is “excellent”.

This includes neuro-radiology, acute neurology and elderly care medicine, “which when taken together designate CUH as providing the greatest range of stroke-related services in any hospital in the country”.

He added that recruitment for a full-time clinical nurse specialist for stroke care, a speech and language therapist and a physiotherapist is “ongoing”, but it is “anticipated the staff will be in post by Sept 2013 when the unit is due to be opened”.

Currently, patients over the age of 65 who require acute stroke care treatment are assessed and admitted by the geriatric medicine service at CUH. Younger stroke patients are admitted by the neurology service.

Stroke units are operating in hospitals across the HSE Dublin Mid-Leinster region, Cavan General and the Mater. A roll-out to Roscommon, Limerick and Wexford is expected to take place later this month.

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