A call has been made for the Minister for Health to avert a looming crisis at Merlin Park Hospital which is threatening to cripple the provision of orthopaedic services in the west from next month.
Almost one-third of the nursing staff at the hospital’s orthopaedic department are set to retire in February and will not be replaced due to the HSE’s recruitment ban.
Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh has warned that because of this waiting times for elective orthopaedic procedures, such as hip replacements, could rise by up to 300 per cent while trauma patients presenting at UHG’s emergency department could be forced to wait days for surgical care.
He has asked Minister Dr James Reilly to meet consultant orthopaedic surgeons at Merlin Park Hospital urgently.
“Galway has been very fortunate to have what is arguably the best orthopaedic department in the State and an excellent team of surgeons who have done tremendous work in developing the service in recent years,” stated Deputy Walsh.
“They forewarned the previous minister for health of this looming crisis over a year ago and have raised the matter with the relevant people within the HSE but nothing has happened. I have now asked Minister Reilly to engage with them as a matter of utmost urgency.”
The Galway West TD said that there was an established precedent for the required action, as the Minister had last year ceded to his request to lift the recruitment embargo in respect of 12 theatre nurses at UHG.
Trauma or emergency orthopaedic care is provided at UHG while elective orthopaedic procedures are carried out at the department’s 25-bed unit at Merlin Park where nursing staff levels have already fallen to 22 per cent below optimum since the introduction of the recruitment embargo in 2008.
Five ward nurses are poised to retire together with 2.5 whole time equivalent (WTE ) nurses who currently work in the two operating theatres used by the orthopaedic department, he outlined.
“This will leave just 11 ward nurses and 4.5 WTE theatre nurses. Consultants have warned that this will result in the closure of one of the operating rooms and half of the beds in the ward. Surgical activity is expected to be reduced by up to 30 per cent in these circumstances.”
Meanwhile Senator Fidelma Healy Eames echoed Deputy Walsh’s concerns saying the reduction in nurses will impact severely on the orthopaedic service.
“Without sufficient nurses surgeons cannot operate. It costs the State €65,000 to train a nurse, we need to take on more of them. Surgeons can do five hip replacements in a day but these highly paid people will have nothing to do if they don’t have nurses. They might be going home at 12 o’clock.”