It could take up to five years before University Hospital Galway has a new emergency department.
Senior management at the west’s biggest hospital outlined this week that the tender for the new facility is going out to the design team now. The process will then have to go through design approval and eventually to tender for the building phase.
This will mean that the overcrowding at the existing ED, which was constructed in the 1950s and which has about 62,000 attendances annually, is set to continue for the forseeable future.
In the late 1990s, the A&E was upgraded as part of a bigger phase one development at the site. In an effort to improve operational flow in 2005/6 an internal reconfiguration was undertaken to create a “minors” area to enable streaming of patients. All non core clinical accommodation was moved out of the department to create additional capacity.
However, growing demand for services is putting increasing pressure on the already overburdened department.
Speaking after a briefing this week with senior management of the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs the local public hospitals, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said at best it could be 2022 before the new ED opens.
“It will also be four to five years at best before we see the new emergency Department up and running, according to the senior management who briefed us. The tender is only now going out for a design team. The process will then have to go through design approval, tender for build and construction phases. This will all take years and in the meantime the overcrowding in UHG continues, staff are expected to work in unsuitable conditions and lives are being put at risk.”
He stated a senior hospital clinician said a “sticking plaster” approach was being used to provide critical health infrastructure.
The Sinn Féin Senator for Galway West - South Mayo it was clear that the hospitals in Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal, which operate under the SAOLTA hospital group, are “creaking at the seams”.
“They are desperately in need of essential investment and lives are being put at risk on a daily basis due to insufficient government action.
“Dr Pat Nash, the Saolta group’s clinical director, went as far as to say that we are getting a ‘sticking plaster’ response in the west of Ireland when it comes to hospitals infrastructure.
“He outlined that the site at University Hospital Galway is 60 years old, congested and has had bits ‘stuck on to it’ to try to deal with the extra capacity needed. He maintains that it isn’t designed for optimum patient flow and the core infrastructure is aged and inadequate. He added that there is no long term vision.”
The senator pointed out that waiting lists for surgery are on the rise in the SAOLTA group with more than 25,688 people on the inpatient waiting list and a staggering 66,227 on the outpatient one. Many of these patients are waiting 18 months and over to be seen which is “totally unacceptable”, he said.
“The management of SAOLTA cite difficulties in recruiting personnel as one of the major problems with specific difficulties in geriatrics, diabetes, endocrinology, pathology and gastroenterology. They also say that having a 30 year old IT system which isn’t fit for purpose is a major challenge as well.”
Senator Ó Clochartaigh said that the Saolta group is on track to be €36m over budget this year, according to its financial controller. They say that private insurance companies are causing particular difficulties by disputing money payable.
“These problems are due to a lack of investment from successive governments who have promised a lot and delivered very little. We need a longer term vision for our hospitals, as has been outlined in Sinn Féin’s ‘Better for Health’ policy, which would move us away from a two tier health system, employ more frontline staff and see greater emphasis on preventative medicine and keeping people out of the hospital system in the first place.”