Covid surge sees all but urgent surgery deferred in hospitals

Hospitals across State to cancel outpatient clinics and defer non-urgent procedures

Hospitals across the country are to defer elective or non-urgent procedures as well as outpatient appointments due to the surge in Covid-19 case numbers.

Hospitals in Galway are to defer all but very urgent and time-critical inpatient and day surgery from Tuesday.

The Saolta group said that outpatient clinics at University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital would also be cancelled. However, it said that some of these would take place virtually unless it was absolutely necessary for patients to be seen. The group said the deferrals would be for a two-week period initially, and would be kept under review.

The measures are “to help the hospital manage the significant and sustained increase in the number of Covid-19 cases currently being treated in the hospital”, it said. Rising Covid infection numbers in the community were likely to lead to further hospitalisations, it added.

Outpatient appointments, other than time-critical ones, at University Hospital Limerick for the remainder of this week are to be rescheduled. Time-critical outpatient and day services, such as oncology, haematology and dialysis, continue to operate.

The University of Limerick Hospital Group said on Monday that as part of its winter plan, elective surgery was not scheduled to take place during the week commencing January 4th, although emergency and trauma theatres would continue to operate.

“In view of the surge in Covid-19 activity and the rising number of infections in the mid-west and around the country, our plan to resume elective surgery on January 11th is currently under review.”

It said there were approximately 100 staff at University Hospital Limerick and approximately 150 across the hospital group who were off work and self-isolating.

Hospital services will also be strongly impacted in the south of the country.

The South/South West Hospital Group, which includes facilities in Cork, Kerry, Waterford and parts of Tipperary, said: "Arising from the rapid increase in Covid-19 admissions, the number of acute hospital staff isolating either because of a positive result or close contact with a known positive case and the projected trend in admissions based upon community transmission levels of Covid-19, hospitals in the group have curtailed elective activity.

“In accordance with national direction, only critical time-dependent elective procedures are being undertaken in most hospitals. The situation is being kept under constant review.”

Services for patients in Dublin may also be impacted. The Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, which includes St James's and Tallaght hospitals, said on Monday that all of its hospitals were reviewing activity based on current pressures, and patients would be informed of any changes.

Safe services

Children's Health Ireland, which comprises the paediatric hospitals and facilities in Dublin, said it was "monitoring on a daily basis their activity and resource capacity, especially staffing, to provide safe services and to ensure patients, parents and staff are safe. Time-sensitive and essential services are being prioritised".

The hospital manager at Galway University Hospitals, Chris Kane, said: "We regret the impact that these deferrals will have on our patients, but it is a really important part of maintaining critical and emergency services. A small number of urgent cancer and time-critical procedures will proceed. Patients will be notified directly if their appointment or procedure is being deferred.

“Currently there are three wards in the hospital closed for new admissions due to confirmed cases of Covid-19. We are also seeing a significant and sustained increase in the number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19, and as of 8pm on Sunday evening, January 3rd, there were 43 Covid-19 positive patients being treated in University Hospital Galway.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent