Epilepsy unit at CUH idle for year despite waiting list

A €500,000 specialist unit for monitoring seizures in people with poorly-controlled epilepsy has lain idle for a year while more than 100 patients in vital need of assessment remain on a waiting list.

The epilepsy monitoring unit (EMU) at Cork University Hospital (CUH) failed to open in 2013, despite a commitment from the HSE that it would open in the third quarter.

The HSE conceded yesterday that the unit will not now open until 2014.

Epilepsy Ireland chief executive Mike McGlynn said his organisation was gravely concerned the unit had not opened as promised because access to an EMU for patients with highly complex epilepsy was “a matter of life and death”.

“The people we are talking about here are those who suffer the greatest number of seizures and who are at the highest risk,” he said.

He said his concern was that money allocated to staff the EMU through the HSE’s national epilepsy clinical care programme had been spent on hiring nurses that would be deployed elsewhere within the hospital.

“I think CUH has diverted that money which it is not entitled to do because it came through the national epilepsy programme.”

Mr McGlynn said they now feared the unit would never materialise.

“In my opinion, the way things are looking now, that unit will never open and we are gutted about that.”

The function of an EMU is to provide a safe environment to record and study epileptic seizures with a view to identifying patients who may be suitable for surgery. It also aids a definitive diagnosis of epilepsy.

Earlier this year, a long-awaited EMU opened at Beaumont Hospital and the expectation was for a second unit to open in Cork. As it stands, patients have to travel to Dublin to avail of the service.

Dr Brian Sweeney, consultant neurologist at CUH, has said that the recording of seizures is a vital part of the assessment of patients with drug-resistant epilepsy because it allows doctors to localise the exact site where the seizures originate in the brain.

In a statement yesterday, the HSE denied that funding for the EMU had gone elsewhere, saying that it “remains in the budget for CUH”.

The HSE said the recruitment process of nursing staff is in the final stages and the intention is to have the EMU functioning “in early 2014”.

There are 40,000 people with epilepsy in Ireland, of whom 30% have difficulty controlling epilepsy and would stand to benefit from the EMUs.

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