€3m overspend forces surgery cancellations

Thu, Aug 7, 2008, 01:00

One of Dublin’s main hospitals has cancelled all non-emergency surgery from the middle of August until the end of September due to budget constraints in the health service, it has emerged.

An internal memo to staff at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown said the hospital needed to bring its projected overspend of €3 million for this year back in line with the allocated budget.

The memo dated August 5th was seen by Fine Gael TD Dr Leo Varadkar, who has worked at the hospital.

In the memo, hospital general manager Shay Smyth states there is a need to reduce activity levels in some areas in order to bring activity back in line with 2006 figures. This is the target set in the hospital’s 2008 service plan.

Mr Smyth said a decision had been taken by the hospital executive to cancel all elective work (in-patients and day cases) from August 18th to September 30th inclusive.

He said cancer patients and other “urgent electives” would not be affected.

“Urgent patients are to be determined by individual consultants in consultation with the bed manager. The day ward will be closed for the duration and one room only will be assigned for emergency endoscopies,” the memo said.

Mr Smyth told staff the initiatives are being put in place to "minimise in as far as possible disruption to patients, while remaining within our budgetary and service plan targets”.

The measures will be reviewed at the end of September.

Dr Varadkar said the measures meant that patients would suffer and there was a risk that serious illness would not be detected at an early stage.

“The cutbacks are the second set of cutbacks at Blanchardstown Hospital this year and are by far the most savage. Essentially, the hospital has been forced to reduce its service back to 2006 levels in order to break even by the end of the year,” he said.

Dr Varadkar said important procedures such as gall-bladder surgery, hip replacements and hernia repair operations woult be delayed.

“Investigations requested by GPs to detect bowel and stomach cancers, Crohn’s and coeliac disease will be pushed back, reducing the likelihood of early diagnosis and intervention.”

The Health Service Executive said today it was "not correct" to say this was the "second set of cutbacks" at the hospital.

"There have been no ward or bed closures at the hospital and the hospital is not reducing activity to 2006 levels. It is delivering services in line with service plan commitments and working to ensure that the hospital remains within budget by the end of the year," the HSE said in a statement.

"Many hospitals throughout the country, scale back elective procedures over a number of weeks in the summer in line with consultants annual leave and patient preferences."

The HSE said Connolly Hospital had been experiencing "sustained pressures" in the emergency department during the summer months due to the complexity of cases presenting and that this had resulted in longer waiting times.

"The management of elective activity in line with service plan levels will help alleviate these pressures and ensure that emergency patients are managed safely."

A spokeswoman for the hospital said: "Activity at the hospital has increased significantly in the last year. Already this year, we are 12 per cent ahead of our service plan targets in our day cases and up 3 per cent on in-patient activity in Connolly Hospital."

The hospital also said it did not have a long public waiting list and the majority of patients on the active list were waiting less than three months for procedures.

"The measures will be kept under continuous review from a service and risk perspective. We remain committed to minimising the effect on our patients," it said.