Up to 60 elective orthopaedic operations are being cancelled each week at Merlin Park Hospital following the detection of a significant leak last month in a flat roof housing the hospital's two orthopaedic theatres.
Repairs were carried out when the initial leak occurred on September 4 in the theatres which date back to the 1950s. However, further leaks occurred the following week.
Both theatres were closed and no elective orthopaedic surgery has taken place at the hospital since September 13, according to Deputy Hildegarde Naughton. This has resulted in the cancellation of up to 60 procedures weekly.
She outlined that more than 900 patients were on waiting lists for hip replacements, spinal surgery and other elective orthopaedic procedures following the closure of the theatres. A total of 58 of those patients have been waiting more than 15 months for operations, which in some cases require early intervention in order to ensure successful outcomes, she said.
She described the situation as "untenable" and said that both short-term and long-term action was required to address the crisis.
"Obviously, decisive action is required in order to minimise delays in getting these 911 patients the treatment they need and are entitled to expect, but we also have to look at the underlying issue that brought this about," she said.
"These theatres were built in the 1950s and, on their best day, do not meet infection control, decontamination and other key standards.
"The roof leak that has resulted in this crisis is symptomatic of the historical under-investment in Galway's healthcare infrastructure, which has left us with hospitals that are unsafe and unfit for purpose," said Deputy Naughton.
"We need more than a fixed roof if we are to provide the people of Galway and the surrounding region with facilities that can cater for their healthcare needs and those of future generations."
Deputy Naughton organised a meeting yesterday (Wednesday ), (which took place at the time of going to press ) between consultants, hospital management, and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to discuss the situation at Merlin Park.
"There are a range of immediate-term actions on the table that will allow for some level of surgical activity to continue pending more substantive measures. These include the use of theatre time at UHG and possibly at private hospitals," she said.
“The procurement of modular theatres at Merlin Park is also being considered, but these are merely stopgap measures and the underlying problem of historical under-investment in our healthcare facilities still has to be addressed."
She stated that a design brief was currently being developed for the construction of a three-storey unit at Merlin Park, which would be the first phase of a new hospital there and would incorporate an orthopaedic theatre complex.
"We have a first-class team of doctors and nurses working in second-rate hospital facilities, and that mismatch has to be addressed once and for all," she added.
Meanwhile the Minister for Health has asked the HSE West to produce a contingency plan in the wake of the occurrence of the leaks, according to Deputy Catherine Connolly. She raised the issue in the Dail with the Minister for Health recently.
She stated that no elective orthopaedic surgeries are taking place at the hospital which "purports to be a centre of excellence". She questioned how this situation could be allowed continue for more than a month without intervention from the Minister for Health. Deputy Connolly added that waiting lists for surgeries were "extraordinarily high" in the first place.
In response to her question it was confirmed that Minister Harris had asked the HSE to produce a contingency plan and that Deputy Jim Daly, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, was to visit Galway earlier this week in relation to a number of matters, including Merlin Park Hospital.
"Unfortunately, there has been no statement since this visit from either the Minister for Health or the Minister of State and no clarification on the status of the proposed contingency plan to deal with the emergency," said Deputy Connolly.