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clock is ticking

'It's not fair to leave people in this pain': Westmeath woman waiting 2 years for surgery on chronic back ailment

Catherina Tobin has lost the power in one of her legs since being put on a surgery waiting list in May 2015.

catherina Catherina Tobin

A CO WESTMEATH woman who has been on a waiting list for surgery for a chronic back condition for more than two years has now lost the power in one of her legs.

Catherina Tobin, a 54-year-old native of Rochfortbridge, has been in need of surgery for a chronic spinal complaint since at least June of 2015.

She was diagnosed as needing decompression and fusion surgery of the L4 and L5 vertebrae in her back at north Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital in June 2015. She was put on a waiting list for that surgery at the same time.

Two years later, she appears to be no closer to having her operation. Her health has deteriorated in the meantime. Her most recent appointment saw her undergo internal scans and an MRI which showed she is losing the power in her bowels, putting her at risk of cauda equina syndrome.

Cauda equina is a condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spine. Considered a surgical emergency, if left untreated it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis of the legs.

“I am in constant horrific pain,” Catherina told “I can’t sleep any more, I can’t lie on my side, I can’t lie on my back, my bottom is numb.

I can’t move my left leg or toe. I’m confined to my house and I haven’t been able to get back to work for two years [she is a florist by profession].
I had nerve tests in April 2016 and the results concluded that my situation is chronic. I should never have been left like that. If this is left long enough I’ll have permanent damage, I’m sure of that.

No response contacted Beaumont Hospital for a response regarding Catherina’s condition, but the hospital declined to comment “in the interest of patient confidentiality”.

File Photo Beaumont Hospital in Dublin has said it is postponing non-urgent procedures today, because of an increase in the number of people presenting to its emergency department.

“If patients or their families have concerns about the care they have received, they are encouraged to contact the hospital’s Patient Representative Office,” a spokesperson said.

As at end June, Beaumont had 24,999 outpatients on waiting lists, 2,833 (11%) of whom had been waiting for longer than 18 months, according to the National Treatment Purchase Fund’s (NTPF) official figures.

Catherina says she has repeatedly contacted the hospital, on a daily basis, since being told she would have surgery within two months on 15 May, but has had no response.

“I went up there in May, and they told me they were going to keep me in as an emergency. Then the consultant’s registrar came through and told me that I’d be taken in within two months,” she says.

Well that two months has been and gone. There’s a new registrar now. I’ve been calling every day and I can’t get anyone to speak to me. The reception says they’ll page the consultant and then there’s no response.

She acknowledges that she has only recently contacted the hospital’s Patient Advisory Liaison Service (PALS) but says she delayed making that call as given the length of her wait she was more interested in speaking to her consultant directly.

“In the event of a change to scheduled surgery, patients are informed by telephone and procedures are rearranged as soon as possible,” Beaumont’s spokesperson said.

Patients are invited to discuss their case with the team of specialists overseeing their care.
If patients or families have concerns, they should contact the hospital’s Patient Representative Office, a key function of which is to help resolve difficulties that may arise in relation to hospital services or care.

Catherina first had a disc removed from her back when she was 19, followed by another when her son Alfie was born.

“I had a hard childhood, and maybe the nutrition wasn’t the best. But I have always been a strong woman. I worked – and worked hard,” she says. “I was in attendance at the Beaumont pain clinic for 10 years before they decided I had to have surgery.”

It’s not like I want this. I’ve tried everything to avoid this operation. But now I have to have it, and when I call them they won’t talk to me. I just hear that ‘this is a trauma hospital, and all the beds are full’.
Well that’s wearing thin now.

The situation with waiting lists in Irish hospitals has grown progressively worse in recent times, with the most recent figures suggesting that over 660,000 people in the country are on a list awaiting a treatment or surgery.

Lack of clarity

A February investigation by RTÉ Investigates suggested that thousands of patients waiting for operations and procedures are not included in official waiting list figures published by the NTPF.

“There’s the equivalent population of 10 counties on lists,” says nearby Meath TD Peadar Tóibín.

Catherina has been forced to wait over two years for this critical operation, and it’s led to significant personal problems and waking hours consumed with pain. People are being left to decay on hospital waiting lists in Ireland at present.
Even if the government was devoid of compassion, they must surely recognise this as a false economy. Delayed treatment just prevents people from fending for themselves economically.

90401854_90401854 Peadar Tóibín Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Catherina’s son Alfie, meanwhile, has just finished his Leaving Cert. He has opted to defer college to take care of his mother.

“It’s the lack of clarity we can’t stand,” he says. “Mum is very unwell at the moment. It’s not on at all, if it continues for much longer she could end up paralysed for all we know.

It’s affecting her head and it’s totally understandable, she can’t sleep.

Catherina’s condition stems from the bone growing over the nerves in her spine. “The bone needs to be ground back,” she says.

It’s not fair that they leave people in this pain. I just feel like I’ve been brushed off.

“It’s time the government provided Catherina with an operation,” says Tóibín. “It’s time she was released from the agony of this condition.”

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