Health Minister Simon Harris has asked the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs University and Merlin Park hospitals, to draw up a new plan for the future of these facilities taking into account any expansion needed to meet the growing demands for these services.
His response comes in the wake of a letter earlier this year from Dr Pat Nash, the chief clinical director of the Saolta University Healthcare Group, which was signed by 196 consultants at both hospitals calling for the development of a new hospital in Galway.
The document was extremely critical of the existing facilities at the 700 bed public hospital which is the tertiary referral centre for the west, warning that they are unsafe, unfit for purpose, and inadequate both in terms of capacity and structure.
This top-level correspondence has lent considerable support to the ongoing campaign of Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton who has been leading calls for a new hospital at Merlin Park.
In his recent reply, Minister Harris noted that an options appraisal for the development of hospital facilities in Galway was currently under way and he added that he looked forward to receiving this.
The letter to the Health Minister "urgently requested" that he consider the proposal saying the current "ageing" facilities are not fit for purpose either in capacity or structure to meet the current and future care requirements for the population.
It described existing infrastructure as "neither adequate nor safe" for the delivery of high-quality healthcare while the "unplanned evolution" of the Saolta group had exacerbated capacity deficits at UHG.
The correspondence also mentioned proposals for the construction of a new emergency department at the hospital, claiming that it "will not address the serious infrastructural and capacity deficits across the UHG campus".
Deputy Hildegarde Naughton said the views of the 196 consultants constituted a "stark warning" about the condition and capacity of the hospital as well as the pressing need for a new facility in Galway.
"The deficiencies in terms of capacity and infrastructure at UHG are well known and are reflected in the many statistics and stories we hear in relation to issues with access to healthcare," said the Galway West TD.
"That is not going to improve and cannot be remedied at the hospital's current site. The UHG campus is at saturation point in terms of development and its capacity cannot be increased without moving elsewhere.
“The support of every single consultant doctor at GUH is most welcome and extremely important. These are the people who know the system best and any plans for the future of our regional health service should be clinician-led," she added.