A number of consultants at University Hospital Galway have sought an urgent meeting with Government politicians in the wake of the resignation of colorectal surgeon Mr Myles Joyce last week over the hospital’s failure to provide him with adequate theatre time.
His decision - which was reportedly taken out of frustration at not being able to get the facilities he needed to carry out his work - came just 15 months after he was appointed to the west’s biggest hospital.
In a letter to Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames one of the consultants said the embargo on the recruitment of nurses - due to HSE budgetary constraints - is adversely affecting the number of operations being carried out at the regional hospital and warned it is putting the west’s cancer care programme at risk.
He also feared that a number of new appointments to deal with head and neck cancers, as well as oesophageal and colorectal cancers, may not take up their positions following Mr Joyce’s resignation.
The concerned consultants will meet Senator Healy Eames and her recently elected fellow party TDs Brian Walsh and Sean Kyne on Monday to voice their growing concerns.
The senator outlined that the consultant in question, whom she declined to name, contacted her on Thursday last after the news about Mr Joyce’s resignation appeared in this newspaper. He requested to meet her and local Fine Gael TDs and asked if some of his colleagues could attend the meeting to give the politicians an “indepth insight” into the situation at UHG.
“He explained there are an adequate number of operating rooms but the problem is lack of nurses,” she said. “In 2008, 129 theatre nurses staffed the 16 operating rooms in UHG. However, due to the staff moratorium and people leaving the numbers now stand at 90. This month there will probably be two more people leaving. There are also two more retirements on top of that due in 2011.
“He said, these nurses, while it sounds like a large number, have to staff 16 operating rooms, including cardioplasty, orthopaedic trauma, general surgery, plastic surgery, ENT, ophthalmology, urology and maxillo facial surgery. All the emergency care for Galway and the major cancer care programmes in breast, general surgery and skin cancer are all delivered from these rooms.”
Senator Healy Eames said this system has been coping with the aid of various seasonal closures, such as Easter, two weeks at race week, Christmas as well as a week around mid term introduced to help cope with the decrease in the number of nurses. Rolling closures are planned also, whereby in about one week in six, each surgeon has a operating room closed.
“The consultant outlined that Dr David O’Keeffe, the hospital’s general manager, was promised three and a half whole time equivalents last October to help with nurses in theatre and the cancer care programme. However, these posts have not been filled.”
Senator Healy Eames said she has agreed to act as an advocate for the consultants, who are calling for the moratorium on the recruitment of theatre nurses to be lifted to allow surgery to progress. She raised their concerns with health minister Dr James Reilly who assured her he will address the issue.
“I’m taking this very seriously. I met with Dr Reilly and his private secretary last week and I am meeting the hospital consultants next week. I’ll be making the point to Dr Reilly [at her next meeting] that the moratorium may appear to save money but it doesn’t if surgeons are walking around with nothing to do and patients are in pain. We need to look at individual cases.”
She said the Government’s “awful” financial predicament is a result of what she termed the “historic mismanagement” of public finances.
“We find ourselves as a Government in a terrible financial predicament for legacy reasons. However, a situation that leaves expensive surgeons with nothing to do and patients untended to makes no health or financial sense and is unacceptable. This situation must be sorted out in the short term. I will be doing everything to ensure this happens.”