Pregnant woman with breast cancer had operation deferred

A 39-year-old pregnant woman suffering from breast cancer had her surgery deferred at University Hospital Galway because her consultant could not get access to a operating theatre.

The woman, who is three months pregnant, had to wait a week for the operation. This is the latest in a series of incidents which have highlighted the effects of the health cutbacks, particularly the embargo on the recruitment of nurses.

The decision by colorectal surgeon Mr Myles Joyce to hand in his resignation after 15 months at the facility - after repeatedly highlighting the problem of inadequate theatre time - made headline news recently and sparked the intervention of Health Minister Dr James Reilly.

Hospital consultants say while there are an adequate number of theatres at the west’s biggest hospital there is a shortage of theatre nurses.

Local Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh says consultants are competing with each other for theatre space and the “shameful” story of the breast cancer patient who was “sent home for a week” is a case in point.

“It is appalling that her surgery was delayed because her consultant could not get theatre space. Her operation should have taken place immediately, this was an urgent case. Instead she had to go home. Can you imagine the stress that put on her?”

Deputy Walsh, together with fellow TD Sean Kyne and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, met a number of consultants and a nursing manager, at their request, at UHG on Monday. The group outlined their concern at the closure of theatre space at the hospital and called for the embargo on the recruitment of theatre nurses to be lifted. They are seeking 20 additional theatre nurses to be appointed by September at the Galway hospital.

Deputy Walsh says while there are 16 operating theatres at UHG these are not always open, for example, only nine were open on Monday, 12 on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday and 10 will be open tomorrow (Friday ). This is the case weekly, he outlines.

“The reason these theatres are not operating to their full capacity is because of the shortage of theatre nurses. In 2008 there were 129 theatre nurses in UHG but because of the staff embargo this number has been reduced over the years to 94 now. That’s the problem, consultants are having to compete for theatre space. That’s why Mr Myles Joyce resigned, he could not get access to theatres.”

He says the shortage of theatre nurses is impacting on everything from the number of operations being carried out to the length of in and out-patient waiting lists. The HSE’s HealthStat league table rates UHG as a poor performer because of these long waits, he outlines.

“The reason for this is they [the surgeons] cannot get into theatre as often as they would like. The infrastructure, the 16 theatres, are there but many of them are closed and this is contributing to the long waiting lists. The consultants argue they could cut the waiting lists if they had sufficient access to theatres.

“They also seem to suggest there may be a difference in the way other HSE regions look at the moratorium. It [the embargo] does not seem to be an issue in all other hospitals. It does not appear to be a problem in Dublin hospitals, for example.”

Meanwhile Senator Fidelma Healy Eames says UHG’s poor performance in the HealthStat ratings is no reflection on its “excellent” staff and is due to the shortage of theatre nurses which means fewer operations are being performed and waiting lists are escalating.

“The hospital is in a desperate state because they cannot put patients through theatre quickly enough.

Last Thursday, for example, there were 50 patients for surgery but only 30 got operated on by the end of the day. Due to the lack of theatre nurses the waiting list for in and out-patients and emergencies is growing.

“Galway’s performance in the HealthStat tables is not a fair reflection on the staff. There is major concern that the right measuring system is not being used to classify UHG. There are very eminent specialists there. The nurses and surgeons are at their wits’ end to do their best. Staff morale is very low at the minute.”

The Fine Gael politicians will meet Health Minister Dr James Reilly later this week to urge him to lift the moratorium on the recruitment of theatre nurses, imposed by the Fianna Fail government. The local representatives will also meet John Hennessy, the HSE West’s regional director of operations, to find out why there appear to be what they term “inconsistencies” in the way the various HSE regions operate this embargo.

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