The capacity of outpatient clinics at the west’s biggest hospital will be reduced by up to 50 per cent because of Covid-19 preventive measures.
As University Hospital Galway works to restore services which were temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, the task is proving “very challenging”, according to hospital management.
“We are trying to restore elective activity, surgeries, and outpatient and diagnostic services across our sites,” says Ann Cosgrove, the chief operations officer of the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs the public hospitals.
“It is proving very challenging. For surgery, we have to put in place a pre-screening process. All patients having a general anaesthetic have to be tested for Covid-19 prior to surgery. That takes a lot of planning to ensure it is done in a streamlined way.
“Regarding outpatients, we cannot go back to crowded waiting rooms. We are going to be delivering outpatient services through a combination of face-to-face, telephone, and video consultations. In terms of diagnostic services, such as X-rays, it is similarly challenged because of Covid-19 requirements, such as cleaning [equipment]. Our capacity will be reduced because of these Covid preventive measures. In reality, outpatient clinics will be reduced by 30 to 50 per cent.”
Covid and non-Covid pathways
Covid and non-Covid pathways will be maintained in the emergency department (ED ) to prevent infection. This system will also be in place for surgical patients coming through the ED.
“If surgical patients are coming through ED and they have Covid they will have to go through a separate entrance. That is very challenging, of course.”
While Galway’s two private hospitals provided services to public patients during the pandemic, as part of the State’s takeover of these facilities to ensure additional capacity, this formal agreement has ended. However, Saolta is working with both the Bon Secours and the Galway Clinic to obtain “some levels of access” in the future, according to Ms Cosgrove.
“The formal arrangement as negotiated with the private hospitals came to an end [the week before last]. We are working with the two Galway private hospitals to get some level of access. It has been a difficult process for them in terms of their own private workload. We are hoping [this access] will continue for the months of July and August to enable us to provide our cardiothoracic service from the Galway Clinic as well as some access for CT and MRI scans.”
Seven suspected cases of Covid-19 at UHG
There are currently seven suspected cases of Covid-19 at UHG but there are no confirmed cases. There are no confirmed or suspected cases in the hospital’s intensive care unit. There is one confirmed case at Portiuncula University Hospital in Ballinasloe but no confirmed or suspected cases in its ICU. The other western hospital, Mayo University Hospital, does not have any suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases in either its general beds or ICU.
However, the numbers of general hospital patients and people accessing ED services is growing. This is another cause for concern for Saolta chiefs. On a number of days recently there were in excess of 200 patients attending UHG’s emergency department. There were 249 patients on one occasion.
There are still some vacant general hospital beds - 22 at UHG, 17 at Portiuncula, and 13 at Mayo University Hospital. UHG is operating at more than 90 per cent capacity. “That is a concern, national advice would be to keep the occupancy level at 80 to 85 per cent.”
Ms Cosgrove says the hospitals must be prepared lest there is “some level of [Covid 19] surge, small or large” later this year. “Our concern would really be in relation to being prepared lest there is a further surge of Covid-19 with the full easing of restrictions. Until such time as a vaccine is available this is a risk right through winter when there is flu and winter illnesses.