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Consultants fear waiting list targets cannot be met in Galway


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Consultants fear waiting list targets cannot be met in Galway Consultants fear waiting list targets cannot be met in Galway

From the Galway City Tribune – Hospital consultants fear efforts to clear the waiting lists at the city’s two public hospitals may never happen due to record high bed occupancy rates and cancelled appointments.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said waiting list reduction targets “will never be met in 2023 unless hospital bed occupancy rates are significantly reduced by rapidly delivering extra capacity in our public hospitals”.

The dire warning was issued after it was confirmed that Galway University Hospitals (University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park) had bed occupancy of 117% in January and February of this year.

The HSE figures confirmed that GUH’s bed occupant rates were the worst of the top ten hospitals in the country which reported occupancy rates of over 100%.

The occupancy rates at other hospitals included: St Luke’s Kilkenny (101%), Ennis (104%), Nenagh (105%), Connolly (105%), Tallaght (106%), Mayo (106%), University Hospital Limerick (109%), St Vincent’s (111%), and Bantry (113%).

IHCA said Ireland has among the highest hospital bed occupancy rates in the developed world, well above the recommended maximum occupancy rate of 80%-85%, and 50% above the EU average of 63.2%.

The rate in Portiuncula University Hospital was also high, at 92.7%.

The news comes as the National Treatment Purchase Fund released its waiting figures which showed at the end of March some 885,600 people nationally were on some form of a NTPF waiting list.

This was an increase of 15,500 since the start of the year and an additional 300,000 (52%) people on waiting lists compared with May 2017 when Sláintecare was published.

This article first appeared in the print edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can support our journalism by subscribing to the Galway City Tribune HERE. A one-year digital subscription costs just €89.00. The print edition is in shops every Friday.

Consultants said occupancy rates at this extreme level resulted in the cancellation of more than 41,000 hospital appointments and operations in the first two months of 2023, in response to the ongoing ED overcrowding crisis at UHG and other hospitals such as Limerick.

IHCA President, Professor Robert Landers, said extreme occupancy levels result in bed shortages, increased numbers of admitted patients being treated on trolleys, higher levels of healthcare acquired infections, cancellation of appointments and growing waiting lists.

“Without a sufficient number of additional hospital beds, waiting lists will continue to increase and maintaining bed occupancy levels at 80%-85% will be impossible,” Mr Landers said.

He warned 5,000 more beds were needed by 2030, as well as 2,000 more permanent consultants to reduce waiting lists.

“This will require opening more than 700 beds per year over the next seven years and appointing around 300 additional permanent consultants on an annual basis. Unfortunately, we have not seen anywhere near this level of investment from Government.

“Just 157 extra public hospital beds were opened in 2022, and only 196 additional approved permanent consultant posts were filled last year, despite latest HSE figures confirming there are still 915 approved permanent consultant posts not filled as needed.

“Waiting list reduction targets are unlikely to be met by the end of 2023 or indeed for the rest of the decade unless Government urgently addresses the twin deficits of the severe lack of public hospital capacity and consultant vacancies,” Mr Landers added.

Meanwhile, UHG has imposed visitor restrictions on St Nicholas Ward due to an outbreak of winter vomiting bug (Norovirus).

Visits to the affected ward will be facilitated on compassionate grounds, on an exceptional basis only, and must be arranged with the ward manager in advance.

Visitors to the hospital are asked to use alcohol hand gels provided by UHG at entrances and exits.

“Infection control procedures are in place on the ward and will remain until further notice,” a spokesperson said.

“There has been an increase in the number of cases of Norovirus in the community and anyone with recent symptoms of diarrhoea and/or vomiting or who has had contact with others who have these symptoms should not visit patients in the hospital to avoid spreading the virus to sick vulnerable patients,” she added.

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