A former vice chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum says the new Government must lift the embargo on staff recruitment at the city’s public hospitals if it is seriously committed to a one-tier public health system.
City councillor Catherine Connolly is also calling for an end to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, a Government scheme designed to cut public hospital waiting lists by buying treatment for patients in private hospitals.
Cllr Connolly was commenting in the wake of attending a special briefing by HSE West management for local Oireachtas and health forum members on the health services in their area on Friday.
She praised Dr David O’Keeffe, who was appointed clinical director of the Galway hospitals last June, for his “candour and honesty”, saying his “straight, no nonsense” approach was to be commended.
“Dr O’Keefe confirmed openly that beds in both Merlin Park Hospital and University Hospital are closed because of lack of staff, primarily nursing staff. In this regard the number of empty beds in question at any given time varies but is over 140. Indeed in 2010 alone 35 more beds were closed.
“Similarly lack of staff is exactly the same reason Dr O’Keefe said why five or six operating theatres out of a total of 16 are closed at any given time, or why he is not in a position to give extra outpatient clinics to clear the appalling outpatients’ list (over 30,000 patients waiting on various out-patient waiting lists for up to five years. ) He said if, for example, a member of staff is out on maternity leave, management cannot fill that vacancy and this applies throughout the hospitals in every department. Furthermore, he gave the specific example of the numbers in radiography being reduced from 62 to 40.
“In addition he said the 51 clerical/administrative staff who took the early redundancy package before Christmas have not been replaced, leaving a gap in the services together with an irreplaceable loss of experience.”
Councillor Connolly said this “straight, no nonsense” highlighting of the facts puts an end to what she termed the delusion that the public health service can be improved by reducing staff numbers further.
She stated all that approach has done is promote private hospitals through the referral of public patients into the private system under the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
“This is a fund that was set up as a temporary measure and has now become a long term institution which is really boosting the profit of private hospitals while the public system is run down. This is a fund which should be finished and the monies put into the public system.”
She outlined it was “crystal clear” from last week’s briefing that if we want a first class public health system then, not alone can no further cutbacks take place, but the embargo on the further employment of staff must be lifted immediately.