Govt accused of ‘linguistic gymnastics’ on Merlin Park

Merlin Park Hospital

A Galway TD has accused the Government of “linguistic gymnastics” in answering questions about the health crisis at UHG and Merlin Park hospitals.

In the Dáil last week, Independent Deputy Catherine Connolly asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to take a hands-on approach in dealing with the serious issues in Galway’s public hospitals, and in particular, the closure of two theatres at Merlin Park for the past six months.

The Taoiseach acknowledged the “enormous disruption” which the theatres’ closure had caused (due to a leaking roof) and said a tender will be awarded in the coming weeks for the construction of two modular theatre buildings on the site.

During Leaders’ Questions, Deputy Connolly said: “In Galway the hospital is at crisis point. Lack of capacity is number one on the risk register. There was a leak in its sister hospital in Merlin Park on September 4, 2017. We were told repairs would take a few weeks. On September 12, there was a further leak and we were told engineers and architects had been appointed. We were told it would only be a matter of weeks.

“During that time, the hospital was told to look at alternative arrangements, including capacity, if any, in the hospital, which was already bursting at the seams, capacity in the private hospitals, or any other way it could source alternative care.

“It is now six months later and the two theatres remain closed. They have been repaired. However, a clinical review has told us they are no longer suitable. The design is not compatible with modern standards. Modular theatres are promised for next October, thirteen months after the water first poured into the two theatres in Galway.

“Just under 1,500 patients are waiting for knee and hip replacements and surgeries. We have been told one solution and it has not happened. We have been given various scenarios that have not happened.

“We have had linguistic gymnastics while people awaiting hip and knee surgeries have no idea about gymnastics. I am asking the Taoiseach to take a hands-on approach and to clarify when the two theatres that have been closed, scandalously, for more than six months will reopen,” said Deputy Connolly.

In his response, the Taoiseach acknowledged the “enormous disruption” that had been caused for some patients and to the health services in Galway as a result of the works carried out at Merlin Park.

“I am informed by the Minister for Health that the HSE is committed to ensuring that full elective orthopaedic capacity at Merlin Park University Hospital is restored.

“I have been informed that a full repair of the membrane of the roof was required to secure the integrity of the building. These works are now complete.

“Notwithstanding the repair, the theatres date from the 1950s and do not meet current clinical standards. An independent clinical assessment has been undertaken to assess the feasibility of returning these theatres to use.

“The hospital management has advised the best way to restore effective capacity at Merlin Park is through the provision of two modular theatres on the site. This has now gone to tender and the tender for these new modular units is at the final stages. It is expected the contract will be awarded in the coming weeks with works to take place thereafter,” he said.

Deputy Connolly said she did not know how to express her disappointment at the reply.

“The Taoiseach has been repeating the same type of response for the past number of months. We are looking at modular theatres which were supposed to be a temporary measure but they will not be in place thirteen months after the water poured in. How can the Taoiseach stand over the situation in Galway?

“We were led to believe in October at a meeting convened under pressure by the Minister for Health that it would be sorted out. Beds in the hospital in UHG were reopened.

“Why were beds closed on St. Finbar’s orthopaedic ward in a hospital that is bursting at the seams when beds can suddenly be opened to facilitate Merlin Park?

“We are also discovering that another solution is to open an old theatre in Merlin Park.

Every time we get an answer we get a different one. The answer the Taoiseach gave us was given months ago, and the repairs were completed months ago,” she said.

Mr Varadkar said his answer was the one he had to hand, and he was not charged with dealing with the issue day-to-day. That’s was a matter for management at the hospital and the Minister.