Saolta boss praises the public for west's hospitals being Covid-free

Tony Canavan, CEO of Saolta. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

Tony Canavan, CEO of Saolta. Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

There were no Covid-19 patients in any of the West of Ireland's public hospitals on Tuesday this week.

Despite mounting nationwide concern about the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the infection, which accounted for 20 per cent of last week's national case numbers, the Mayo, Galway and Roscommon hospitals did not have any Covid patients at the time of going to press.

A downward trend in numbers has been recorded in the local hospitals in recent weeks with the figures for the past week being particularly low.

Tony Canavan, the chief executive of the Saolta University Health Care Group which runs the public hospitals in the west and north-west of the country, welcomed the trend. He attributed it to people's continued adherence to public health guidelines coupled with the success of the vaccination programme.

"For the last number of weeks, the number of Covid patients in the local hospitals has been in the mid to early teens, 13 to 15, across the whole hospital group [Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, and Donegal].

"Over the last few days, the numbers have reduced further. As of Tuesday, there were no Covid-19 patients in Galway, Mayo, or Roscommon hospitals."

The Saolta CEO said the public's continued compliance with Government regulations and the success of the vaccination programme have driven down Covid-19 numbers in the community.

"This has been a really positive achievement by people themselves in the west and north-west. People are attending for vaccines in droves and are continuing to follow all the good practices, such as social distancing, wearing face masks, and hand hygiene.

"The vaccine programme is working, in the week of Monday 14 to Sunday 20 June, 37,685 vaccines were administered in the six centres across the west and north-west. [The Saolta Group has overall responsibility for the vaccination programme in the region. Its vaccination centres are located in Galway, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Roscommon and these have not been affected by the HSE cyber attack because they have a separate and newer IT system].

"On the 17 June, we hit 5,999 vaccines, that was the highest daily total [administered] since the programme started in the west and north-west. While at times there may be little blips, by and large we are doing the [individual vaccine] process in less than 30 minutes overall."

Elective procedures

The disruption caused by the cyber attack on the HSE's IT system, which resulted in the widespread cancellation of outpatient appointments, elective procedures, and endoscopy appointments, continues.

While some progress has been made in terms of returning some of its key clinical systems to some limited functionality, there is still much to do, according to Mr Canavan, who took over as the head of Saolta, which covers a population of 800,000, in September 2019, and presides over an annual budget of almost one billion euro.

"This Friday, it will be six weeks since the cyber attack. In the first 10 days, we were almost without any IT systems. After that, we got a number of key clinical systems back but with limited functionality and while we have continued to make progress daily and weekly, there are still significant gaps."

The key issue at the moment is connectivity, said the boss of Saolta which employs 11,000 people. Many of its IT systems are not communicating with each other. "They're not talking to each other and they're not sharing information with each other and that has a direct impact on our ability to deliver patient care.

"There is an impact too when you want to transfer a patient from one hospital to another. We do transfers to Dublin and we also transfer, quite a lot, patients from our hospitals in this region to Galway. That's the way patient care is delivered."

Saolta is using a traditional paper-based system to deliver information while its IT services are being restored. "We have manual workarounds in place and information that was previously transferred electronically must now be transferred on paper. Within our hospitals, we have 'runners', somebody literally running with information [from department to department]. Between hospitals, a paper record is sent with the patient. In the background, we are still working on the IT systems to get them back to 100 per cent."

Mr Canavan said progress has been achieved in the three key areas about which he was most concerned, radiology, laboratory, and radiotherapy services. The radiology and laboratory IT systems are not fully restored but he expects there will be some headway made in this area in the next fortnight.

"Radiology and laboratory services are the key ones for GPs. While they are operating at less than 100 per cent, there will be an impact for GPs. We hope over the coming weeks this [situation] will continue to improve but we are not there yet. I think this coming week we'll take a big step forward and the week after it.

"We are still working off a reduced number of out-patient appointments. This has improved. The first week [after the cyber-attack ) we cancelled everything and there were a very significant number of cancellations the second week, too. By the third week we contacted some patients and brought them in. We are seeing more patients now than at the start of the cyber attack. All of our own radiotherapy patients are getting their treatment in UHG."


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