The phased closure of the Ophthalmology ward at Waterford Regional Hospital over the past month, with the loss of 30 inpatient beds, is putting enormous pressure on A&E admissions, the Munster Express has learned, with a total of 18 people on trolleys in A&E awaiting a bed on one particular day in early March.

Reconfiguration at WRH, in adherence with delivery targets set out in the HSE’s Service Plan for 2009, has resulted in the merging of the Surgical 1, Surgical 2, Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) and Ophthalmology wards into three wards since early March, resulting in a net reduction of 30 inpatient beds and the actual closure of the latter ward. Patients for Ophthalmology services are being accommodated in the other wards.

The first of these wards is being operated on a ‘day procedure’ basis, in that it functions 8am to 8pm on weekdays. The second is now a ‘surgical ward’, accommodating inpatients from Monday to Friday for the range of surgical specialties, while the remaining ward provides a full 7-day surgical service, again to be shared by surgical specialties.

Munster Express sources say these revised bed and accommodation arrangements and other cutbacks and curtailments are putting untoward strain on staff and resulting in a notable increase in the number of people on trolleys in A&E awaiting an acute hospital bed. At one point in the past month (on 4th March), the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO)’s trolley watch figures recording 18 patients on trolleys at WRH. In the past week (Tuesday 24th to 31st March), the INO noted a total of 20 patients awaiting admission on trolleys at the hospital.

Waiting lists

Meanwhile waiting lists for an appointment at WRH continue to lengthen, according to the HSE’s ‘HealthStat’, the new monthly performance measure for hospitals. At present, new referrals to a consultant-led ENT clinic at WRH are waiting an average of 600 days (over a year and eight months) for an appointment. The waiting time for the orthopaedics clinic is almost 500 days (upwards of a year and five months). General surgery patients are waiting about a year to see a consultant for the first time and ophthalmology (eye) clinic referrals roughly 8 months. The shortest waiting list is for the paediatrics clinic, though this is still averaging a 100+ day wait and all waiting times drastically exceed the international target that no patient should wait more than 90 days for an appointment.

HealthStat also highlighted significant rates of absenteeism for both nursing and general staff at WRH in the first month of the year, with almost 9% of hours lost amongst general staff and 5% management and administrative and also health and social care professionals. The target set by the HSE is 3.5%.

On Monday the HSE gave the go-ahead for €72m in cuts which will have a severe impact on hospital and community services, most likely resulting in further ward closures, a reduction in operations carried out in hospitals and the delay of key building developments, as well as a reduction in services for the elderly in the community such as home helps. There are also fears the Government will try to generate more income for the HSE by increasing A&E and public hospital charges, as well as imposing higher fees on private health insurance companies for the use of public beds. Also this week the HSE sanctioned the appointments of three new directors who will earn salaries of more than €194,000.