Epilepsy unit set to open after delays

After a delay of more than two years a €500,000 specialist unit for monitoring seizures in people with poorly controlled epilepsy is set to open in January.

The opening of the four-bed epilepsy monitoring unit will allow the vital process of evaluating the suitability of epilepsy patients for potentially curative surgery to begin. Two previous HSE commitments to open the unit in 2013 and “early 2014” went unfilled leaving more than 100 patients with highly complex epilepsy, and at risk of a fatal seizure, on a waiting list.

However, the HSE has now set a date of January 5 to get the epilepsy unit up and running. Epilepsy Ireland CEO Mike Glynn, said he was sceptical about the date and questioned whether it was a tactic to take the spotlight off the HSE’s inaction.

“Why wait until next year? We’ve waited two years already,” said Mr Glynn.

Consultant neurologist/ epileptologist Colin Doherty, the doctor tasked with implementing the HSE’s national epilepsy programme, said he took responsibility for the failure of the unit to open.

This delay was against a backdrop of “unassailable evidence” that surgery for a small cohort of epilepsy patients was like a “Lazarus cure”.

“For about 5% to 10% of patients, if they have this surgery, they can go back to normal,” Dr Doherty said. The hospital blamed difficulties in recruiting qualified nurses, although a year ago it issued a statement saying it was “in the final stages” of doing so.

Dr Doherty said CUH was the only hospital out of six nationwide where plans to expand epilepsy services as part of the national programme had failed to happen. Beaumont Hospital opened its epilepsy unit last February.

“I don’t know what the explanation for that is,” Dr Doherty said. He said he believed what was needed now to recruit nurses was a special competition “a specific call for nurses to run the epilepsy unit” rather than recruiting as a part of a hospital-wide drive.

“You might argue that failure to open the epilepsy unit has put people off applying because up to now, it’s been a promise that hasn’t happened,” he said.

Despite the delays at CUH, the national programme had made significant inroads, Dr Doherty said, including treating 20% more patients compared to 2008 and reducing the average length of hospital stay for epilepsy patients by 24 hours, down from six days to five.


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