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Top medics issue warning over University Hospital Galway understaffing

Galway public hospitals’ senior clinical leadership team has warned local politicians of the dangers to patients and staff of the ongoing underinvestment in infrastructure at the city’s two main hospitals.

In a hard-hitting letter to Galway reps, six professors and one doctor at Galway University Hospitals (GUH) outlined the impact chronic underfunding of UHG and Merlin Park was having on patient care and staff.

Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director, Saolta and Consultant Cardiologist, was among the signatories of the letter which urged politicians to prioritise and progress key developments at both hospital sites.

The clinical team then met with local TDs and Senators in an online conference call to hammer home their message.

“We are extremely concerned about the lack of progress to develop key and urgently needed infrastructural developments across the two sites of GUH. This puts the future of healthcare delivery, recruitment and retention of staff and particularly the welfare of our community and region at risk,” they warned.

They said both hospitals were “extremely old and dated”.

UHG was opened in 1956 as a core six-ward block with linked paediatric and maternity ward units, which “have changed little in the intervening years”. And investment has been limited to “urgent remedial works or temporary add-ons to the site”.

Merlin Park was opened in 1954 as a TB sanatorium and the core layout remains intact with limited change over the years, they said.

They pointed out that an independent appraisal in 2018 and updated in 2021, “found that the majority of the hospitals’ infrastructure was not satisfactory/unacceptable for its current function”.

They warned that despite the recent Covid-19 pandemic, UHG continues to operate with “large nightingale type multi-bedded wards” including 13 beds with a single shared toilet and multiple wards where single rooms have no ensuite bathroom facilities.

“Compared to other regions and large model four hospitals, Galway has had little significant investment in its acute hospitals over the years and clearly ranks now as the model four hospital with the most dated and inadequate infrastructure in the country, a status reinforced by the Covid-19 pandemic where despite the best efforts of staff, we had to manage repeated hospital acquired outbreaks of Covid-19,” the clinical team said.

As well as “inadequate infrastructure”, they argued strongly that there were not enough beds at GUH to reflect how its two hospitals have evolved.

UHG and Merlin now provide acute and elective secondary care for County Galway, most of Roscommon and parts of adjacent counties.

GUH also provides tertiary specialist care for a wide number of specialties, in particular cancer care and cardiac care for Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and parts of adjacent counties.

“This tertiary function was not envisaged when the original hospitals were developed 70 years ago,” they said.

The “major capacity issues” were confirmed in an independent KPMG options appraisal report which outlined the need for 222 additional acute inpatient beds and 34 additional day beds and outpatient facilities in Galway by 2030.

Compared to other model four hospitals, GUH has among the highest number of patients waiting daily for beds, as well as having the longest waiting list. It is also comparatively one of the busiest in the country, they said.

The clinicians’ letter warned: “There are huge clinical risks associated with the current situation where patients are exposed to increased risk whilst being delayed on trolleys in our Emergency Department, or whilst waiting on waiting lists for assessment or prescribed treatment plans, both for urgent time dependent care, in particular potentially curative cancer surgery/treatment but also other procedures/assessments to improve both quality of life and survival.”

They claimed that Galway “has lagged significantly behind other major hospitals with a lack of a clear strategic vision for the future hospital developments”.

They urged local politicians to push for Government progress on a new acute hospital at Merlin Park and for more progress on developing the planned new combined Emergency Department/Women’s and Children’s building at UHG.

The letter was signed by Prof Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director, Saolta and Consultant Cardiologist GUH; Prof Martin O’Donnell, Dean of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Galway and Consultant Geriatrician/Physician GUH; Prof John Morrison, Director of Women’s and Children’s MCAN, Saolta and Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, GUH; Prof Michael Kerin, Director of Cancer MCAN, Saolta and Consultant Breast and General Surgery, GUH; Prof Margaret Murray, Director of Laboratory, Saolta and Consultant Haematologist GUH; Prof Tim O’Brien, Director of Medicine MCAN, Saolta and Consultant Endocrinologist, GUH; and Dr Ramona McLoughlin, Director of Quality and Patient Safety, Saolta and Consultant Gastroenterologist GUH.

Independent Galway East TD Seán Canney was among the group of local politicians who met with the clinical team last week.

Afterwards he said the delivery of those projects was “too slow and unacceptable”.

“I believe that the talking must stop, and we need to get this infrastructure in place so the people who are sick are treated with dignity and can gain access to the treatment required.

“I will be requesting the Government to treat this situation as an emergency, cut out all the unnecessary paperwork and approvals and get the infrastructure delivered. If there is no change in the methods used in delivering infrastructure, we will still be talking about this issue in ten years’ time,” Deputy Canney said.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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