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More than 200 patients had to be evacuated from the building on 1 March. Alamy

Appeals for plan to cope with waiting lists as Wexford A&E could remain shut for six months

While services have been resuming at the hospital, its emergency department remains closed.

THERE ARE CALLS for the HSE to implement an emergency plan to combat growing waiting lists as Wexford General Hospital’s emergency department is set to stay closed for up to another six months.

Politicians in the southeast have appealed for a 97-bed unit in Wexford to be fast-tracked to cope with the crisis.

More than 200 patients had to be evacuated from the building on 1 March following the fire, with patients transferred to hospitals in Waterford, Kilkenny, Dublin and Cork.

Maternity, radiology and outpatient services have since recommenced at the hospital but the emergency department remains closed. A Medical Assessment Unit reopened this week.

The fire has meant the neighbouring hospital in Waterford has come under major pressure – figures supplied to The Journal show that there has been a 59% increase in ambulance arrivals since the fire. 

matt tweet Temporary structure erected outside University Hospital Waterford's emergency department to cope with added patients coming from Wexford. Matt Shanahan Matt Shanahan

However, despite University Hospital Waterford becoming the next port of call for many patients it has been awaiting support and staff to cope with the added demand on its services.

As both hospitals in Wexford and Waterford are under the authority of differing umbrella hospital groups, they are both in talks with the HSE to provide additional support to cope with the demand.

The South/South West Hospital Group told this website that it has remained in discussion with the HSE to achieve additional resources, which one TD criticised as a “lack of proper emergency support”.

Yesterday, Clinical Director Dr Obad Youssif at Wexford General Hospital (WGH) said builders are on site working to reopen all parts of the hospital, but that it will “probably be four to six months before we’re fully operational in ED [emergency department]“.

He told South East Radio that builders have secured a significant section of the building to allow some work be undertaken, including maternity care and some medical assessments.

“They have created safe corridors for patients and staff to operate from,” he said, “As you’re aware this is a very fluid situation and it is very difficult to give a solid timeline but we’re talking a number of months before we’re back fully operational again.

“It is hoped that opening the acute medical assessment unit and Minor Injuries Unit will take back about 50-60% of our patients which will relieve the pressure on the system.”

Speaking in the wake of the fire three weeks ago, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said a planning derogation similar to that used to provide extra beds in Kilkenny during the pandemic could be invoked for Wexford.

Independent TD Verona Murphy told The Journal this now needs to happen immediately, with a meeting being sought by Wexford TDs to press Donnelly on his commitment from earlier this month.

Murphy said it was needed to ease hospital waiting lists over the coming months.

“We know that there is a template there for a planning derogation. It was carried out in Kilkenny when we had the Covid emergency and I don’t think this has to be any different” she said.

“There is now enormous pressure being brought to bear on the University Hospital in Waterford – I’m getting daily calls in relation to the queues, the ambulance service being held up, the staff themselves being under pressure. We need Wexford back up and running as soon as practically possible.”

wexford eoghan The scene on the night of the fire at Wexford General Hospital. EOGHAN DALTON / THE JOURNAL EOGHAN DALTON / THE JOURNAL / THE JOURNAL

Following the fire in Wexford, a temporary covered waiting space was provided close to the emergency department in Waterford to cater for the increase in ED attendances.

In the ten days following the fire, University Hospital Waterford experienced a 27% increase in weekday patient presentations, 41% increase in weekend presentations as well as a 59% increase in Ambulance arrivals, according to the South/South West Hospital Group.

The group said discussions were continuing between it, Ireland East Hospital Group – which is responsible for Wexford – and the HSE regarding “additional resources and supports for UHW given the significant increase in demand”. 

Waterford Independent TD Matt Shanahan, who was elected to the Dáil following a lengthy campaign based around resourcing for UHW, said if a plan is not implemented in the short-term, then elective procedures are likely to be cancelled.

Any additional resources would require beds, he said.

“There’s no way that University Hospital, given where we are in terms of outpatient waiting lists, in terms of our already delayed schedule of elective care and the impact this is having on our A&E staff, can continue to provide care not only for the Waterford population but also the A&E capacity of Wexford. It’s impossible to do.”

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