Galway City’s public hospitals have €10m deficit

University Hospital Galway
University Hospital Galway

Galway City’s two public hospitals are running a deficit of over €10 million this year – with no improvement in finances likely as the group battles with roof leaks and forges ahead with plans to open a new ward to ease overcrowding in the Emergency Department.

In answer to a question tabled by Fine Gael TD Padraig Conneely at a Regional Health Forum West meeting, Chief Operating Officer at the Saolta Hospital Group Ann Cosgrove said the budget for University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park Hospital until the end of July was €303m.

The forecast deficit by the end of the year was €13m, of which €2.5m would come from pay increases agreed nationally that had to come from central coffers.

She stated the €10.5m deficit related to clinical expenditure in the area of direct patient care for drugs, medical and surgical supplies, x-rays and laboratory tests.

The group had been given €100,000 to pay for the design of a new emergency department, which would come with a predicted cost of €120m. That design team would be in place by the end of October, and they were likely to take up to eight months to complete the plan.

A total of 28 beds new beds were opened in January, following the commissioning of the 75-bed block. Recruitment had already begun for a further ward with at least 20 beds, with funding expected to be confirmed for this shortly, Ms Cosgrove told the Forum.

The cost of repairing a leaking roof over the surgical units at Merlin Park, which would cause hundreds of operations to be delayed, had yet to be determined. But it was unlikely to be a simple fix as it was a flat roof.

Cllr Conneely said operating above budget was now an inevitability each year for the hospitals.

“If you were a private company, you’d be in liquidation. How come you can’t live within your budget. Does the €13m affect you for 2018? I’ve heard the [Health] Minister saying you won’t get any extra money. I heard this week that pastoral care costs €5m in the hospitals and half a million was spent in the west – that’s new to me.”

Ms Cosgrove said the Galway hospitals were in a comparable situation to other large facilities in the country when it came to budget challenges. The overrun was 3.4% of the overall budget.

“It may have an impact on our budget next year but we don’t get enough for our budget. We are trying to curb costs where we can without impacting on patient care.”

She explained that the hospitals used two ordained and one lay chaplain for the emotional support of patients and they received a set salary according to national guidelines.

She pointed out that €5m in no way reflected that pay.

“It’s not bad money if you can get it,” sniffed Cllr Conneely.

Chairperson Mary Hoade reminded him that he would have to fit the criteria. And Ms Cosgrove warned him that she might be on the interview panel.

“I wouldn’t mind facing you on an interview board, Ms Cosgrove. I might get a late vocation.”