Thursday, 12 May 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Thomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
We have had a lot of questions this week about the national maternity hospital but I want to ask about Letterkenny General Hospital. As the Tánaiste knows, Letterkenny is part of the Saolta group of hospitals. This group has seen waiting lists increase by over 45,000 people in the past seven years. Letterkenny has seen an increase of 19% in that time, maybe not as high as other hospitals in the group but that is because we were starting from a higher base and a longer ongoing problem.
More than 2,800 people in Letterkenny have been waiting for ear, nose and throat, ENT, orthopaedics and cardiology appointments for over 18 months. There are over 1,000 patients on the three largest lists for inpatient treatment at the hospital. Indeed, we even have a situation where a consultant surgeon has been appointed but has not done any surgery because he cannot get theatre time. That is the crazy kind of situation with which we are now dealing. If it was in the film "Catch-22" we would say it was unbelievable but this is everyday life in Donegal.
Figures have shown that of 806 beds added nationally to the hospital services, only 36, or 4%, have been in the Saolta group. Sadly, I think that the Saolta group is focused on Galway and Letterkenny is at the end of it thoughts. All told, Letterkenny and Donegal are at the end of the line as far as the Saolta group is concerned and the Saolta group is at the end of the line as far as the national picture is concerned. That does not augur well for the people of Donegal who depend on Letterkenny for their healthcare needs.
Some 33% of approved consultant posts are either vacant or filled on an agency basis in Letterkenny General Hospital. The recruitment campaigns for two geriatric medicine posts were extended four times and the positions remain unfilled. A consultant microbiologist post is unfilled despite the campaign being extended seven times. The campaign for a new ENT surgeon has been extended three times. That position remains unfilled. Even if those posts are filled, we end up with surgeons who do not do surgery because they cannot get theatre time because there are not any staff to run the theatres.
What are the Tánaiste and the Government going to do about this situation? Are they simply going to continue to move patients to private hospitals or are they going to come up with ideas to sort this situation out? The people of Donegal deserve better and deserve solutions that will deal with recruitment problems. Surely the Tánaiste would agree that there is something badly wrong with a health system that does not even seem to be trying to address these problems or is it simply about forcing people onto private hospital lists?