Patients did not show up for 35,000 outpatient appointments at Galway University Hospitals (UHG and Merlin Park ) last year.
That’s according to Bill Maher, the newly appointed chief executive of the Galway Roscommon University Hospital Group.
Addressing a meeting of the HSE West’s regional health forum in Merlin Park earlier this week he said this resulted in a reduction in the hospital’s capacity to see new patients and added considerably to waiting lists.
He hoped all patients would make every effort to attend their designated appointments or would notify the hospitals concerned in advance so that their slots may be offered to other patients.
Mr Maher, who briefed members of the forum - all councillors - about the new hospital group which was set up in January and comprises Galway University Hospitals, Portiuncula Hospital Ballinasloe and Roscommon County Hospital - stated the new structure brings the hospitals together as a single unit.
Its aim is to reduce emergency department admission waiting times; to meet the Department of Health’s targets for inpatient waiting lists and to deliver the 2012 service plan.
So far this year Galway University Hospitals is making “significant progress” with the number of patients who have to wait for a bed and the length of time they have to wait.
Tony Canavan, chief operating officer of the Galway Roscommon University Hospital Group said it has been steadily reducing the waiting times for admission from the ED since the beginning of the year.
“Since January the highest number of patients waiting in the ED for longer than 18 hours was 12 and this occurred on February 21. The situation improved in March when we had 21 days when there were no patients waiting longer than 18 hours and this pattern has continued into April.
“We monitor the bed situation very closely with an initial report every morning at 6.30am followed by a meeting at 8am to decide what actions need to be taken. One of the key differences in our approach this year is the introduction and implementation of the Full Capacity Protocol. The protocol comes into effect when the number of patients on trolleys in the ED reaches a certain threshold and we then transfer a maximum of two patients to each ward from the ED. This approach has reduced the time that it takes to admit a patient to an actual bed on a hospital ward.”
The opening of a medical assessment unit and a short stay medical ward at GUH in January means that patients are admitted under the correct speciality and into the appropriate ward which has improved the efficiency of the hospital considerably, he added.
Another priority is to meet the inpatient waiting list targets set by the Department of Health’s special delivery unit. This stipulates that patients should wait no longer than nine months for an inpatient or daycase procedure.
Mr Maher outlined that a range of measures has been introduced which is helping the organisation achieve this target. These include waiting list validation, improved reporting and focus, more effective use of resources across all of the hospitals in the group, patient education and engagement as well as increasing theatre capacity by opening previously closed theatres.
“In January, GUH had 9,901 patients who would potentially breach the target of waiting longer than nine months if they were not seen by the target date of 30 September. As of the 19 April, we have reduced the number waiting to 5,524 patients and we are on course to achieve the special delivery unit target in September. This is a tremendous achievement and I would like to thank all the staff throughout the group who have helped us get this position and who remain focused on achieving the target.”
The SDU launched an initiative to deal with the outpatient waiting list in March, similar to the project to deal with inpatient waiting lists.
“We are currently preparing to take part in the latest SDU initiative and our aim is to use the resources of all the hospitals in the group to reduce the numbers waiting,” said Mr Maher. “Currently there are 40,517 patients on the outpatient waiting list for GUH; this is an unvalidated list and may include duplicate patients as we know that some patients are routinely referred for the same or similar services to a number of hospitals. We expect the actual number of patients waiting to reduce following the validation exercise.
“We will then look at managing capacity and demand by converting follow-up clinics so that new patients can be seen and also where need be by adding additional clinics.”