Hospital plans to suspend surgery


SURGEONS AT Merlin Park hospital in Galway say they will “vehemently oppose” a proposal by management to suspend all elective orthopaedic surgery at the hospital from September.

The proposal would see the cancellation of hip replacements as well as spine, shoulder, hand, foot and ankle surgery.

In a statement yesterday, orthopaedic surgeons at the hospital said the suspension of elective orthopaedic services would affect up to 1,000 patients.

Speaking on behalf of orthopaedic surgeons at the hospital, Dr Stephen Kearns, chair of the orthopaedic department, said that without surgery, patients would be “incapacitated, with increasing pain and dependency on medication and no prospect of meaningful treatment”.

The cost-cutting proposal made by management at Merlin Park University Hospital, part of the Galway University Hospitals Group, came at a meeting last Thursday, the same day that Health Service Executive figures revealed the hospital group had overspent by €14 million in the first five months of the year. This was the biggest overspend by any hospital in the State.

In a statement last Friday, HSE West said management of the Galway University Hospitals Group was looking to reduce costs by removing duplication of services provided at both hospital sites. The hospitals are located a few miles apart in Galway city.

Dr Kearns said there was no duplication in the area of orthopaedics, adding that “all elective work is done in Merlin Park hospital. There’s no theatre or ward capacity in University Hospital Galway to handle this volume of work”. He said orthopaedic staff were told the suspension of services could potentially save €361,000, but added “the pain and suffering of patients awaiting elective work was too high a price to pay for such a small gain”.

A statement issued yesterday by HSE West in response to the surgeons said while the Galway University Hospitals management team was looking for efficiencies and cost savings to ensure the hospitals can deliver on service targets within budget, no decisions had been taken yet.

Last Friday, staff at Merlin Park hospital claimed to have seen written proposals to close most units there. One senior hospital source said that apart from the kidney dialysis unit and some outpatient and day hospital services, most of the other units were earmarked for closure. It is understood that many of the services may be moved to University Hospital Galway.

In response, HSE West said the hospital was not going to close, but did not specify whether any individual units might close. Dr David O’Keeffe, clinical director of acute services for the Galway hospitals said: “There is absolutely no question of the closure of Merlin Park University Hospital; it will continue to provide key services to patients. There is, however, a need for greater integration of services, for continuous improvement in the range and standards of services, and to eliminate duplication of costs of providing similar services on two sites.”