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Currently, specific training in stroke is spread around a number of other training programmes, such as the programmes for geriatrics; neurology; rehabilitation medicine; and clinical pharmacology.
However, HSE Clinical Lead for Stroke Prof Joe Harbison said the plan now is to unite stroke training into a specific programme. “What we are looking to do is establish a post-CST [completion of specialty training] training year, where we build the training in and around the individual to fill in the gap of what they haven’t got from their front-line training to turn them into a stroke specialist,” he told MI.
Prof Harbison said such programmes are common in Europe and its introduction in Ireland would help cement the improvements made in stroke medicine here over the last decade.
The development of the programme still requires agreement from the RCPI and the establishment of a specialty training committee.
Prof Harbison spoke to MI following the recent publication of the Irish Heart Foundation/HSE National Stroke Audit of Rehabilitation Units 2016.
According to the audit, Ireland only has about half the acute stroke unit beds required to meet international standards and an even lower proportion of specialist rehabilitation beds.
The report reveals that deficits in allied health professionals range from 40-80 per cent in acute hospitals and there is a deficit of at least one-third in most therapy areas in public rehabilitation hospitals when compared to the UK, which itself is not well staffed from an international standpoint.
In addition, Ireland still only has three small, under-resourced early support discharge teams for stroke, which are considered a basic element of care in most Western European countries.
Prof Harbison revealed that Letterkenny General Hospital plans to open a stroke unit in January next year, but that the future of stroke services in Navan and Kerry remains uncertain.
“The big issue is, we need to increase the capacity of the units, both in terms of what they can do and in terms of their size,” according to Prof Harbison. “That is the challenge for the coming years.”