Minister Harris approves modular cath lab for University Hospital Waterford

Health Minister Simon Harris

Health Minister Simon Harris has agreed to provide a “modular” catheterisation laboratory at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) to allow for increased numbers of diagnostic and follow-up procedures for cardiac patients.

However, it is understood the new facility will not operate on a round-the-clock basis and campaigners will still be pressing for a permanent, second cath lab at UHW to cater for heart attack victims.

Minister of state John Halligan, who has campaigned with other southeast TDs and senators for years for a second permanent cath lab to be provided alongside the existing facility at Waterford which currently runs on a 9am-5 basis, Monday to Friday — said the modular lab will improve waiting list times in the southeast.

Campaigners looking for a second cath lab have held marches and other protest events in the Waterford area and their cause was highlighted last year by the death of local farmer Tom Power, aged 40.

He arrived at UHW on a Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pains but, as the cath lab was not open at the weekend, was put into an ambulance for transfer to Cork, and died en route.

His sister Catherine Power yesterday said there are “still lives at risk of being lost at the side of the road” despite the announcement.

I will have to see it to believe it,” she said, pointing out that the service is “still not 24/7”, and that campaigners in the region believe the cath lab should be available round the clock, seven days a week.

Mr Halligan yesterday said Mr Harris had asked his department “to proceed without delay to engage with the HSE on the next steps in providing a modular lab”.

However, it will be next year at least before the new facility is in place as the HSE will have to go through the tendering, project design, planning, commissioning, and construction phases.

A catheterisation laboratory is used to perform certain diagnostic procedures in patients complaining of heart problems, such as angiograms, and interventions to relieve acute episodes.

A mobile cath lab has been in place in UHW since last year to relieve the pressure on the existing, permanent lab, but can only be used for diagnosis purposes and not follow-up procedures.

Waterford-based Mr Halligan said the new modular lab will increase capacity and provide “immediate access” to the main cath lab for emergency patients presenting with heart attacks.

The mobile lab has helped to decrease from 670 to 370, over a 12-month period from January 2017, the number of patients on the cardiac diagnostic waiting list, with the majority of patients waiting up to three months.

“Despite this success, however, the mobile lab is limited to use for diagnostic angiograms only and does not provide facilities for more complex procedures,” said Mr Halligan.

Of the patients who received diagnostic angiograms, around 30% require follow-on procedures and the increased number of people who received a diagnosis in the mobile lab has hugely increased the pressure on the main cath lab.

Final costings for the lab have not yet been completed but Mr Halligan said funding, including staffing costs, will be “ring-fenced” in the 2019 budgetary estimates.

The mobile lab will remain on site in the meantime while a National Review of Specialist Cardiac Services, to include examining the need, or otherwise, for a second permanent cath lab in Waterford, is continuing.

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