It will be next January at the earliest before two temporary operating theatres open in Merlin Park Hospital – and concerns have been expressed over whether they will require planning permission.
The theatres are to replace two existing units at the hospital which had to be shut down because of a leaking roof, forcing the cancellation of all orthopaedic surgeries.
Health Minister Simon Harris met with Galway TDs, as well as HSE officials and consultants from Merlin Park and University Hospital Galway last week to discuss the latest crisis to hit the health service in the West.
Independent Deputy for Galway West, Catherine Connolly said: “It emerged during that meeting that this was a crisis waiting to happen given that it was accepted by all that the building housing the operating theatres was not fit for purpose for a considerable time.
“As a result of this and previous governments’ failures to deal with this situation, the inevitable crisis resulted with the scandalous situation of a leaking roof in an operating theatre.
“Consequently approximately 60 patients scheduled for knee and hip operations on a weekly basis have been left without not just care but furthermore any knowledge of when they will get their operations,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said that given the nature of the crisis, and that it is now over a month since the first leak occurred, the failure to provide a written contingency plan at the meeting was of great concern.
“Indeed, it has taken all of this pressure, including raising the matter in the Dáil, for management and the Minster to consider interim solutions. Amongst those solutions are the re-opening of St Finbar’s Ward in UHG (which begs the question as to why it remained closed in the first place), the use of private facilities, and the provision of modular operating theatres.
“While these proposals are welcome as a temporary solution, the lack of clarity around planning permission for the modular theatres, including a time span for their erection, and the delay in opening St Finbar’s is of great concern, particularly in light of the amount of time that has elapsed since the leak was first detected,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Deputy for Galway West, Hildegarde Naughton, has warned against a stopgap solution to the problem at Merlin Park, and reiterated her call for the development of a new acute hospital on the grounds of Merlin Park.
“We need to stop firefighting and addressing recurrent problems with sticking-plaster solutions. We have a responsibility to plan for the long-term and ensure that adequate healthcare infrastructure is in place to meet the needs of both this and future generations in Galway.
“This isn’t about repairing a roof – it’s about fixing the local health service. Patient safety will continue to be compromised by situations like this unless the present facilities are replaced with a new hospital that is fit for purpose,” said Deputy Naughton.
Roscommon-Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who also attended the meeting, said it could be January at the earliest before the proposed temporary operating theatres are working at Merlin Park.
“The HSE and the Minister have agreed to install two temporary operating theatres. However, even if everything goes according to plan, it will be January 2018 at the earliest before they are operational.
“It is worrying that when we asked the situation with regard to planning that no straight answer could be given and if these temporary operating theatres are subject to the planning process then January 2018 is not a realistic target date for them to come into use.
“There are also plans to open another ward at the University Hospital in Galway this week and we are awaiting word as to whether private hospitals will be allocating theatre space to the patients who are missing out in Merlin Park at the moment,” said Deputy Fitzmaurice.