Eoghan Dalton Reports
Longer waiting times for elective procedures are feared after University Hospital Waterford (UHW) proposed to reduce its operating theatre service for four weeks this summer as a cost-saving measure. The fewer planned procedures will coincide with annual leave of staff and will mean agency staff won’t be sought in place of the regular workforce.
It comes following a visit to UHW last week by the HSE’s new Director General, Paul Reid also wrote a strongly worded memo to his senior management across the country last week, telling them that going over budget “can no longer be considered an option”. Reports last week said that Mr Reid had told his management that hospitals should look at cutting back on lower-priority services. A spokesperson for University Hospital Waterford said the closure is proposed to take place for a four-week period commencing Monday, July 22nd to Friday, August 16th. The move has been criticised by members of the public and politicians.
Attendees of Saturday’s latest march for 24/7 cardiac care heard from the podium of the Bishop’s Palace that the service would be hit with cuts this summer. Waterford TD David Cullinane (SF) said the reduced number of procedures will impact on frontline services and lead to longer waiting times. Speaking after he and other Waterford politicians met with hospital management yesterday morning, he said UHW had confirmed that savings of five per cent need to be made this year come in on budget, with the current annual budget at €190m.“This, quite simply, is cuts dressed up as cost savings,” said Deputy Cullinane. (
Management of the hospital intend to publish details over the next fortnight of how it will achieve savings of up to €9.5m. Deputy Cullinane said UHW management is also looking at cutting overtime. The hospital spokesperson confirmed it is holding discussions with staff and hopes to use the vacated theatre capacity during the summer to carry out initiatives to reduce waiting lists. “The people of Waterford and the Southeast do not need spin. Dressing up cuts as cost savings is disingenuous. Treating less patients because of funding is wrong and should not be tolerated. We need to achieve savings where possible but we also need to properly fund acute hospitals like UHW to ensure patients are treated safely and fairly.”
The news was described as a “hammer blow” by Cllr Matt Shanahan (Ind), chairperson of Health Equality for the South East (HEFSE).He also criticised the failure to appoint a fourth cardiologist, promised by Minister for Health Simon Harris (FG) last year, which would allow operating hours of cardiac services at UHW to expand to 8am-8pm. Cllr Shanahan claimed this has not been progressed “largely because it is being proposed it should be a ‘shared appointment’ with Cork University Hospital requiring days and /or nights spent ‘on call’ there.
“This is wholly inadequate to the needs of South East cardiac patients and services and is further testament to the disregard prevalent in dealing with the demand needs of this hospital and region”. His campaign group further called on the region’s government ministers to “represent properly the needs of your region and its patients”.
“They should reflect that they are supporting an overspend of €1bn on the National Children’s Hospital – just a half of one percent of that overspend would deliver 24/7 cardiac care to the South East region where emergency Cath Lab access continues to be offered just 25% of every week to heart attack patient,” Cllr Shanahan said.
“Government has failed spectacularly in providing any leadership to counter the ongoing healthcare discrimination of South East patients and in our opinion this failure should not go unpunished in the impending Local Elections and the subsequent General Election, whenever it follows.”Meanwhile, a call has been put by the Still Waiting Health Campaign asking the public to “vote exclusively” for candidates who have supported the campaign in both the European and Local Elections. The campaign supports the implementation of the Sláintecare plan which would create an Irish National Health Service “free at the point of use and regionally appropriate to population”. In a statement, the campaign said the region “urgently needs the roll out of RICOs”, or Regional Integrated Care Organisations. Under the Sláintecare plan this would see UHW become the leading provider of health services for the South East instead of falling under the umbrella of health services in Cork. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the establishment parties have no intention of moving in this direction, with further cuts of €10 million needed at UHW. The leaking of information regarding the cutting of elective operations during the Summer comes a week after news that waiting lists in the SE are the longest, adding to the litany of intolerable situations at UHW.”Its regional organiser, Una Dunphy (PBP), is standing for election this Friday. She called on voters to support candidates for her own party as well as Sinn Féin, the Green Party, Labour and Independents Cllr Seán Reinhardt and Vivienne Burns.