AN orthopaedic surgeon has claimed he will only be able to operate “once or twice more” this year at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway because of plans to suspend all orthopaedic surgery for four months.
Under proposals from the Health Service Executive (HSE), all elective surgery at the hospital is due to be suspended from September until the end of the year.
However, because the hospital also effectively closes for Galway Race Week on July 26 — and this year the closure is extended to three weeks — consultant orthopaedic surgeon Stephen Kearns said he “will operate once or twice more this year” despite having 110 patients on his elective waiting list.
He said the HSE measures — designed to “streamline services” and “remove duplication” between Merlin Park and University College Hospital Galway (GUH) — would “significantly curtail” his practice.
However Mr Kearns said it was “ludicrous” to suggest that there wasn’t a need for surgical services on both sites.
“There is a huge pressure on the services, yet we are being told otherwise,” he said.
He also said the HSE plans will lead to significant suffering for patients awaiting joint replacement, but not considered urgent.
“What defines urgent? If you are at home in severe pain and can’t sleep or walk, is that not urgent?” Mr Kearns asked.
Orthopaedic surgeons at the hospital estimate the curtailment of services will affect 1,000 patients.
Mr Kearns said hip-replacement was the “single best health intervention in terms of improved quality of life for the patient and value for money” yet it was patients in need of such replacements that would now suffer.
A statement signed by six orthopaedic surgeons from Galway Regional Hospitals’ orthopaedic department, of which Mr Kearns is chair, said last night that the HSE’s proposals would leave patients currently awaiting surgery “incapacitated, with increasing pain and dependency on medication with no prospect of meaningful treatment”. The surgeons said there was “no current capacity in the region to treat these patients elsewhere” and that the cancellation of surgery would “deal a crippling blow to orthopaedic care for the region in the future”.
It also said staff currently involved in the delivery of orthopaedic surgical care would be redistributed within the institution and lost as a vital resource to the service and that training for doctors in orthopaedic surgery will cease to exist in the region.
More than 2,500 procedures are performed in the hospital annually, and there are more than 30,000 outpatient clinic attendances.
“We as a group have been informed that this closure will potentially save €361,000,” the statement said. “It is worth noting that previous closures have never generated the savings predicted by management.”
The HSE said GUH hospital management was currently developing a cost containment plan to ensure that the hospitals can deliver on service targets while remaining within allocated budget.
“This plan will examine all areas to see where efficiencies and cost savings can be made,” it said. “This plan has not been finalised and no decisions have been taken at this stage.
“HSE West can state categorically that there are no plans to close Merlin Park University Hospital (MPUH). MPUH provides a wide range of services as part of the GUH campus and will continue to provide health care for patients.”
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