Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Hospital Facilities

7:00 pm

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Ó 2011 níl ach ceann de na seomraí obráide i bPáirc Mhuirlinne ag obair agus tá scuainne mór daoine ag fanacht anois ar chóir leighis agus níl tada á dhéanamh faoi ach geallúintí folmha nach bhfuil á chomhlíonadh. Tá sé in am ag an HSE agus ag an Aire a dhéanamh cinnte de go bhfuil na saoráidí seo ar fáil i nGaillimh. Tá iontas orm nach bhfuil siad ar fáil i nGaillimh.

There is an extraordinary situation in Galway where some 2,000 patients in need of an orthopaedic operation who have been seen by a consultant are awaiting the procedure. It is the worst backlog I have ever seen in my time in politics and happening because there is a problem with the roof at Merlin Park hospital. Instead of having two operating theatres, only one is operable. There was supposed to be a quick solution, including the provision of temporary buildings. Therefore, I find it difficult to understand why the building has not been repaired by now.

In the meantime, the roof of the operating theatre in Merlin Park cannot be fixed to allow operations to take place. A temporary modular building cannot be put in as promised to allow operations to take place. The patients do not care how it is done. They just want it done.

Many years ago when I was selling fencing stakes, I once ran out of them. Somebody rang me looking for fencing stakes. When I started giving excuses, they said something to me that has stuck in my mind since. They said: "Éamon, I'm not looking for excuses. I'm looking for fencing stakes." The people in Galway are looking for orthopaedic procedures, not excuses. Some 2,000 people are in pain waiting for services such as hip and knee procedures, injections that have to be done in an operating theatre, operations on backs etc. They want to know when they will be put out of their pain and misery and have the service provided.

The past eight years have been characterised by more reports, more investigations and more procedures except for the procedures that are not being done, namely, the actual operations. We have had every other kind of procedure to prevent from happening the procedures we need to happen - those operations on patients that need to be done to take them out of their misery and let them get on with their lives. As the Minister of State knows, people waiting in pain often take a large number of painkillers etc. which can have its own effect on the body.

I hope the Minister of State has good news for me and a firm date for when we will start tackling these waiting lists, ensuring that the people of Galway and the west in general have a very basic service.

7:10 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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Ar dtús, gabhaim buíochas don Teachta as ucht an t-ábhar seo a ardú agus tá orainn go léir obair a dhéanamh ar son muintir na Gaillimhe. I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. Of course, he has to be given a very detailed and considered response.

Galway University Hospitals, GUH, comprises University Hospital Galway, UHG, and Merlin Park University Hospital, both managed by the Saolta University Health Care Group. Merlin Park University Hospital provides elective medical and surgical orthopaedic and minor surgery services, renal services, including a haemodialysis unit, two designated rehabilitation units, and a number of specialist outpatient clinics.

As the Deputy is aware, in September 2017, leaks developed in the roof of a building in the Merlin Park hospital campus that housed the hospital’s two orthopaedic theatres. To ensure a continuation of the orthopaedic service and with the support of Merlin Park staff, the hospital facilitated the transfer of elective sessions to University Hospital Galway, UHG. In addition, some minor procedures were undertaken in hospital 1 Merlin Park. In March 2018, remedial work facilitated the reopening of one of the two theatres at Merlin Park to restore service.

To bring the services back up to full capacity, a tender process was undertaken to provide two modular theatres and a successful vendor was selected for the project. Contracts were exchanged and were under discussion between both parties and a planning application was submitted in December 2018. However, the HSE has advised that, unfortunately, contracts could not be executed, and after discussion with legal advisers, the decision was taken to terminate this procurement. The HSE is working on a revised procurement strategy to restore full capacity at Merlin Park.

It is important that patients are aware that services have continued to be provided at Merlin Park since the initial problem arose. In the 12 months to the end of September 2018, more than 2,300 patients had orthopaedic procedures at Merlin Park. Every week, an additional ten theatre sessions are completed, treating 44 cases on average.

To address the waiting list issues immediately, the hospital is working to optimise current capacity to treat patients. The Government is committed to providing timely access to treatment for patients and has further increased investment in tackling waiting lists, with funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, increasing from €55 million in 2018 to €75 million this year.

The recently published Department of Health-HSE-NTPF scheduled care access plan for 2019 sets out measures to improve care for patients waiting for scheduled care in 2019 by reducing waiting times for inpatient and day case treatment and outpatient appointments. The plan will again this year place a strong focus on high-volume procedures, including orthopaedics. When combined with HSE activity, it is projected that the NTPF will be in a position to offer treatment to all clinically suitable patients waiting more than six months for hip or knee replacements. The NTPF will deliver additional activity in the health service by working with hospital groups and individual hospitals as well as private healthcare providers to maximise the number of patients treated in both a public and private capacity. I strongly encourage all hospitals, including Galway University Hospital, to collaborate with the NTPF to identify waiting list initiatives.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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It is extraordinary that in September 2017 there was a problem with the roof and it will not be solved by September 2019. Having gone halfway down the road like so many processes, they all seem to run into legal, procurement or other problems. We are meant to have a dedicated national procurement process. It seems to me that in the old days when we could just procure stuff, we could get the jobs done. The Minister of State said they are working on a revised procurement strategy. In other words they are on the never-never. When does the Minister of State think we will have two theatres operational in Galway again? How long will this new process take until we actually have theatres fitted out and operational? He might throw in an answer as to why the roof could not just have been mended. It must be some roof.

How many people from Galway have had to avail of EU treaty rights and leave the jurisdiction to get basic services because they could not wait any longer? The Minister of State has said that nobody will have to wait more than six months. When will that actually happen? How many people are projected then to be on the waiting list rather than the 2,000 on the waiting list at the moment? We need specific answers and we need to know the facts.

At the end of the day, as I said in the beginning, people do not want excuses or explanations. They want operations carried out. For some, if they have access to money, the EU treaty rights provide some escape valve. It is ridiculous that we have to send people out of our country for basic services, but we have to because of the incompetence of the Government. For those without ready cash, that is not even a way out.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I again thank the Deputy for raising the matter. Of course, I accept the points he raised, including certain detailed questions that need responses. The HSE advises me that it is in the process of appointing a procurement strategy design team to develop the new procurement strategy. The HSE advises me that the planning application has been lodged and a request for further information has been received. As part of removing the contractor from the previous process, this request for further information will need to be responded to. These are the reasons for the delay.

I reassure the Deputy that the Government is committed to reducing waiting times for patients and improving access to care. The Department of Health is working with the HSE and the Saolta group to restore the full orthopaedic hospital at Merlin Park as soon as possible. On the individual issues the Deputy raised, I will bring his concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and we will respond accordingly.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Minister of State get me a specific answer to a specific question since he has not been briefed on them?