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Ireland could free up 24,000 hospital beds by letting stroke patients out early

A study published today found extra resourcing to help people get back on their feet in their own homes could also save the health system millions.

Image: hospital bed image via Shutterstock

THERE IS POTENTIAL for Ireland to save between €2 million and €7 million each year and free up 24,000 hospital beds if we move to a new stroke survivor rehabilitation system.

This is according to research released this morning by the Economic and Research Institute of Ireland (ESRI) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). The report found that 54% of stroke survivors, or more than 3,000 people each year, could benefit from a policy of ‘early supported discharge’.

This approach to rehabilitation allows patients to return to their own homes more quickly and intensive treatment is given in the home for a number of weeks. According to today’s report, this approach would require a substantial increase in the resourcing of community therapists (physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech and language therapists), community nurses and other community care above current levels in Ireland.

However, savings from the reduced cost of acute bed days could fund this increase in resourcing. More people than ever are returing to their homes after stroke bye Irish Heart Foundation Chief Executive Barry Dempsey said community services designed to maximise their recovery have “remained as bad as ever, with appalling quality of life consequences for discharged stroke patients”.

Stroke survivors currently face chronic service deficits – one in three have no access to physiotherapy and half can’t get any speech and language therapy or occupational therapy. Just 11% have access to psychological services despite the often severe mental health impact of stroke and 36% pay privately for rehabilitation.

Commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, the study found that there is currently poor resourcing of and wide regional variation in community and inpatient rehabilitation for stroke survivors in Ireland. The average length of hospital stay for patients discharged to nursing homes ranges from 79 days in the HSE Dublin North-East Region to 24 days in the HSE West Region.

Dempsey said health policymakers must now act to develop the community rehabilitation infrastructure that will impove the quality of thousands of stroke survivors “and save the State money into the bargain”.

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