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Anger as epilepsy phone service stopped due to lack of maternity cover

Parents of children with epilepsy in the Republic of Ireland have expressed anger after a phone service — providing a swift and direct contact with two epilepsy nurses — was stopped due to a lack of maternity cover.

The phone number allowed people to contact the nurses at Cork University Hospital (CUH) who, in turn, had contact with consultant paediatric neurologists at the hospital.

However, one nurse retired last summer and the other nurse is understood to be on maternity leave.

It has led to a surge in calls from concerned parents to the local office of Epilepsy Ireland, prompting the Health Service Executive (HSE) to offer assurances the vacant posts will be filled “in the very near future”.

One concerned parent who spoke with the Irish Examiner and who tried to use the service on Thursday said: “The epilepsy nurse’s phone is now serviced by an answering machine which offers an email address as point of contact. The address is not spelled out or even repeated.

 “Also, there is no information on where the email is going to and what information needs to be included. The recorded message also suggests to contact your GP or attend A&E.

“There is no explanation offered why the service has been discontinued.”

Niamh Jones, community resource officer with Epilepsy Ireland, said the organisation was aware of the issue and had received a “big increase” in the number of calls from worried parents since the phone service stopped.

 “We have people calling, worrying about their children,” she said, adding that the phone service offered a direct line of communication with the consultant paediatric neurologist in CUH. She said she had “no indication” that cover would be provided to ensure the phone service could resume.

The HSE responded to the concerns, saying CUH provides a consultant-led epilepsy service and “in the absence of the full allocation of epilepsy nurses the consultant staff are maintaining delivery of the service”.