“Downgrade by default” - concern over lack of stroke services at Portiuncula

Deputy Denis Naughten has raised concerns about the lack of stroke services at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, saying the hospital is being “downgraded by default”.

A consultant geriatrician post has been vacant at the hospital for the past year and a half, meaning there have been no stroke services available at the hospital for this time. Ambulances currently have to transport patients at least 40 minutes to University Hospital Galway for life-saving treatment after a stroke.

Deputy Naughten is calling on the HSE to install a Telemedicine stroke machine at Portiuncula, which he says could be linked to the other hospitals in the West/ North West Hospitals Group and read remotely by consultants there.

He says these shortcomings are having a huge impact on stroke patients who should be able to be treated at Portiuncula.

“Without this machine and the consultant geriatrician, anyone who has a stroke has to bypass Portiuncula and go directly to Galway. Every minute that their treatment is delayed, a stroke patient loses 2 million brain cells - so if they have to travel 40 minutes to Galway they can lose 80 million brain cells.”

In addition, says Deputy Naughten, a standard heart attack can only be treated in Portiuncula during business hours.

“If you have a heart attack outside of business hours, the ambulance must bypass Portiuncula and go straight to Galway.

“These are the two big concerns regarding emergency service in Ballinasloe.”

Portiuncula Hospital has been without a consultant geriatrician since March 2013, when the position was first advertised. It is understood that a successful candidate was found in August but they rejected the post, and that it could take another 12-18 months to fill the position.

“That will be three years with a lack of a vital service in the Ballinasloe catchment area. The Emergency Department is already effectively downgraded because the hospital cannot treat stroke patients,” said Deputy Naughten.

He says that several other hospitals, including the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar, have Telemedicine stroke machines, and that there are machines available in a warehouse which could be used in Ballinasloe.

“One of these machines could be installed in Portiuncula, and staff given training to use it so we could have a 24/7 stroke service. There are consultants available within the hospital group who could read the test results.”

The West/ North West Hospitals Group could not be reached for comment.

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