Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Working together – Trish Lane (left) manager of UPMC Whitfield with Mairead Bluett from UHW’s Cherry Ward, which has seamlessly moved to Whitfield during the Covid emergency

The secret of Waterford’s staunch defence against Covid-19 was two hospitals breaking down barriers and building new relationships

AS of last weekend, Waterford was still the bottom of the table for confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, with just 0.6% of overall cases. We have just 12.8 cases per 10,000 population, which has made us, and our health system the envy of the nation. To compare, Tipperary has 33.1 cases per 10,000 people and Kilkenny has 32.1.

Back on March 10, when Waterford recorded its first confirmed case, health officials scrambled to come up with a plan of action. Emergency test centres sprung up in Kilcohan and WIT Arena, a mobile mortuary arrived at University Hospital Waterford and Dawn Meats were put on standby in case extra refrigeration was needed for our dead. The situation was that serious, and behind the closed pubs and deserted streets, doctors, nurses and hospital managers everywhere were extremely nervous. With 1,608 people in Ireland dead from the virus, just two were from Waterford.

In the middle of March, the management of UPMC Whitfield, like every other health system in the country, recognised something unprecedented happening. They put a proposal to the management of UHW on the morning of March 18 outlining how Whitfield could provide a valuable support to UHW by taking on some of their most important services.

“Because Waterford is the major health hub for the South East, all of the cancer patients, cardiology patients, ophthalmology patients, orthopaedic patients urology patients etc come here for their services, which presented a huge risk of covid-19 coming into Waterford from the 600,000 people in the region,” said David Beirne, Managing Director of UPMC Ireland. “We proposed ring-fencing parts of our hospital to facilitate the decanting of services from UHW to Whitfield, to allow them to safely deal with the Covid emergency – however that would materialise – whilst protecting their most vulnerable patients.”

This whole room in Whitfield was a storage facility two months ago. Today it is UHW’s Oncology Day Ward for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency.


Whitfield has provided supports to University Hospital Waterford for the past 13 years so the proposal wasn’t without precedent. Moreover, they had already executed a seamless transfer of the cardiology department from UHW to Whitfield last year to facilitate the upgrading of UHW’s cath lab. Well before the HSE announced a nationwide deal between private and public hospitals, designed to help stop the spread of Covid-19, Waterford’s two, world class hospitals, were already on the case.

“In fairness to Grace Rothwell and the UHW management teams, they agreed to the proposal very quickly and in just four days we executed the herculean task of transferring a large portion of one hospital into another,” David said. “Grace and her team deserve huge credit for their foresight and the speed at which they brought so many departments and consultants together.”

The last time the Waterford News & Star visited UPMC Whitfield, there was the rather surreal sight of a completely empty ward. In fact, it was being used for storage. This time around however, in a tour by hospital manager Trish Lane, it had become a fully staffed oncology ward, with lines of patients safely receiving chemotherapy just 8km or so away from UHW’s frontline defence against Covid-19.

“UHW and Whitfield made the decision to isolate and safely continue cardiology, radiotherapy, medical oncology, in-patient oncology and urgent cancer surgery away from where the expected Covid activity would be,” Trish said. “We started work on Saturday, March 21 and had our first patients on the Tuesday morning, March 24,” Trish said. “With less people coming into UHW, they were essentially able to shut down their hospital and concentrate on their defence against Covid-19.”

UHW simultaneously stopped hundreds of elective procedures, closed down wards and entirely stopped any visitors from entering the hospital. The availability of Whitfield out the road allowed them to – amongst other things – seamlessly move a ward like the new Cherry Ward on the Dunmore Wing to Whitfield without any disruption to patient and with full continuity of care.

The coronavirus pandemic allowed UPMC Whitfield and University Hospital Waterford to plough through an area ordinarily overwhelmed with red-tape to do what was best for the patient. When history reflects on Ireland’s defence against covid-19, Waterford’s strategy will be used as a marker for how things should be done.

David Beirne, Managing Director of UPMC IrelandThe Covid Alliance

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