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Patients needing urgent brain surgery are turned away from Ireland's second-biggest hospital

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar told TheJournal.ie that long waiting times have unfortunately been the norm for decades in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock

PATIENTS URGENTLY REQUIRING brain surgery are being turned away from the State’s national neurosurgical centre because of a lack of beds and theatre access.

The head of the unit, Dr Mohsen Javadpour, has said that the centre had no beds for nine patients with malignant brain tumours last Friday, who were awaiting transfer from other hospitals.

Beaumont has operated rolling theatre closures for the past few years due to staff shortages. Dr Javadpour says this makes forward planning extremely difficult if not impossible.

Fianna Fáil have called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to “act quickly”, while Sinn Féin have called for more investment in the health service.

The Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, said it was “never good” when people are waiting long periods of time.

Hundreds of lives

Mr Fergal Hickey, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, told TheJournal.ie that it was another part of the health service’s capacity problem, which he says is costing hundreds of lives each year.

“We’re short of acute hospital beds, we’re short critical care beds, and in this case, we’re short of acute hospital beds, we’re short of specialist surgical neurological beds,” he said.

I work in consultant in emergency medicine, most days or many days we’d have a reason where we’d want to transfer somebody with an acute head injury to Beaumont, and we know how much of a struggle it is, because we know they don’t have beds.

“Emergency elective surgery, and trauma are both suffering from the fact that Beaumont don’t have the capacity to deal with the problem.”

Beaumont Source: Rollingnews.ie

Hickey said the problem was both one of resources, and of physical infrastructure, and of knock-on effects from other parts of the system.

He gave the example of a patient who sustains a bad head injury in a collision in Sligo, and is transferred to Beaumont, who then want to return him safely to the original hospital.

Beaumont are very keen to do the surgery, but they’re very keen to transfer the patient back to Sligo as soon as possible.

“But Sligo may not have a bed for that patient, and most hospitals in the country don’t have enough beds to go around. Then that patient will wait in Beaumont, which will further impact on Beaumont’s capacity.”

Fergal Hickey Mr Fergal Hickey, Consultant in Emergency Medicine Source: Donal Hackett

Fatalities

The cost of spending a night in an acute hospital bed is multiple times that of spending a night in a community facility, and further multiples of being at home with home-help support he said, adding that it risks unnecessary deaths.

“At the moment there are excess fatalities, people having adverse outcomes, the problem seems to be that the notion that we can’t afford to admit that we need more beds,” Hickey added.

There are people who wait too long in emergency resuscitation rooms.Or people who wait too long in an intensive care unit. It’s a series of knock-on effects of the fundamental problem of lack of beds.

Hickey said a lack of intensive care unit beds is “probably costing 300 lives” a year, while a lack of ED beds is “probably costing somewhere between 300-350 excess deaths a year”.

He said that the State removed about 1600 beds from the public health system in recent years, at a time of increased demand, and that the State’s infrastructure is often decrepit and outmoded.

Leo Leo Varadkar during his time as Minister for Health. Source: Rollingnews.ie

The norm for decades

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said that Minister for Health Simon Harris is developing plans to reduce waiting times.

“It is never good that people are waiting long periods of time. The standard in other western countries that if something is not an emergency they shouldn’t be waiting more than three to six months.

“Unfortunately it has been the norm in Ireland for decades that some people do have to wait longer than that.

“That is obviously something that has to be dealt with by Government, but it is also something that is very difficult to deal with, having done that job, I know that it is never just the case of additional staff or additional space or additional resources or additional equipment.  It does require a big effort from government.”

Kelleher Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil health spokesman and also their director of elections earlier this year. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Winter fears

Fianna Fáil Health spokesman Billy Kelleher said that the revelations of seriously sick patients requiring brain surgery being turned away from Beaumont are “simply unacceptable”.

He said that everyone with an interest in the health services needs to find a solution, and to do it fast.

“This is a really worrying situation, for patients and staff alike, as we face into the winter. It’s only September, and we are seeing backlogs in the health service.

What will it be like when winter comes? The Minister needs to act quickly.

“This is a very specialised area in the health service and it is obvious that more funding is needed to ensure that theatre time and beds are available to allow surgeries to take place.

No one who is in need of treatment should be turned away from an Irish hospital.

Kelleher said that Fine Gael have agreed to Fianna Fáil’s proposal to restart, and expand, the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to address backlogs in the system, by treating orthopaedic and ophthalmological patients outside the public health service.

Recruitment of staff

O'Reilly Louise O'Reilly of Sinn Féin. Source: Rollingnews.ie

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said the solution was the recruitment and retention of staff, and the reopening of closed beds.

“The sad reality of today’s revelations is that this is the rule in our health service, not the exception,” she said.

Patients’ health is being severely undermined by historic underinvestment in our public health service, which has crippled the ability to ensure people are seen and treated in a timely fashion.

She blamed “successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments” for closing beds and relying on the private sector, and said patients are waiting up to two years for neurorehabilitation services.

- With reporting from Christina Finn.

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