Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly confirmed that the second cath lab at University Hospital Waterford will be opened in September.

He made the “commitment” as he attended the official opening of the South East Palliative Care Centre at Ardkeen last Friday.

“As many of you will know, the second cath lab will be up and running in September and we will have in September, both cath labs running in parallel, 5 days per week,” he said.

He described it as “a very important development” in that it will be first time Waterford will have two cath labs running five days a week.

This, he said, will ease waiting lists and provide better inpatient care in that people in beds will be able to access diagnostics and interventional radiology quicker.

“That’s just the first step… we’re then going to move to running it 7 days a week… as quickly as possible,” he said. “It’s a commitment we will be honouring.” And “in terms of 24-7 care, we will consider that in the round when we have the national report on that.”

Minister Donnelly said he is to “have a conversation” with the hospital’s executive team in relation to how “the government commitment” of cardiac care 7 days per week can be achieved, which was met with applause from those in attendance.

In relation to the potential move to 7-day cardiac care being achieved in UHW, Minister Donnelly was asked whether he is willing to commit to the approval and funding of extra cardiological staff being recruited.

“We have already funded it. We have funded, I think, 23.5 whole time equivalents, 19 of them are now in situ,” he said.

Beds & accommodation

Minister Donnelly added that he is very open to hospitals putting in capital submissions to develop accommodation for healthcare professionals to live (with the nearby former Maypark Nursing Home having been flagged with the Department of Health by Independent councillor Donal Barry).

“I’ve already spoken to one or two hospital managers around the country who are looking at various sites for exactly this reason – particularly for healthcare professionals recruited from abroad who may need temporary accommodation while they get set up or NCHDs who are rotating around the country.”  The caveat is that should funding be sought for such projects, there would have to be “a trade-off” against other potential capital healthcare investments.

The Minister also confirmed that “a lot of government discussion” has taken place in relation to UHW getting more beds to facilitate patients.

“Beds have been added and they have been well used. As you may be aware, I am seeking the additional 1,500 beds under a rapid build programme. I haven’t got that over the line yet, we are working on it.

“My intention is that that’s the next phase of bed building and I can confirm to you, that if I get that over the line, Waterford will be included in that 1,500 beds,” he pledged.

Despite criticism to the contrary, most notably from Independent TD Matt Shahahan, the Wicklow-based minister maintained “there has been a lot of investment” in UHW. “The budget is up by about €50 million, we have an extra 330 staff working in the hospital since January 2021,” in addition to the second cath lab and additional beds.

A surgical hub “is on the way,” according to the minister, as well as a new cataract theatre to be open soon. “The longest waiting list in Waterford is ophthalmology and this extra theatre is exactly for that. So, I have no doubt the hospital teams are going to continue to reduce waiting lists,” he said.

The Minister gave an update on the lack of home palliative care for terminally ill children in the southeast – an issue that has been raised in the Dáil.

“The situation in the South East was not acceptable,” he acknowledged. An initial temporary solution has now been “fully embedded” and he had just met some of the palliative care consultants at UHW who are providing this paediatric service to families.

A major positive, he said, is that “teams of fantastic palliative care nurses” who had been in other Section 39 organisations are now transferring across to the HSE. A permanent structural improvement in place, with 3 children in the region currently being looked after.

Adam Doheny