Tuesday, January 10, 2023

It’s not often one can cite Twitter as a medium of measured commentary when it comes to our beleaguered health service.  

But in preparing this week’s Editorial, a companion piece to Claire Quinn’s excellent reporting across four news pages this week, University Hospital Waterford (UHW), a couple of interesting social media posts caught this writer’s eye.  

In response to a query from Irish Times Public Affairs Editor Simon Carswell who sought to speak to any patients or loved ones affected by the hospital overcrowding and trolley crisis, Waterford entrepreneur Carmel Kikkers posted the following.   

“I have only good things to say of (UHW),” she wrote on Monday morning. “I was in and out of A&E at teatime yesterday with triage, small injury clinic, Xray, compression bandaging & excellent active treatment advice all in under 90 minutes, I was very impressed.”  

On a similar vein, and also on Twitter, Clonmel-based Charlotte Matabaro posted on Sunday: “The HSE has received a lot of bad press recently, but I brought my aunt to A&E in Waterford this morning. We were seen immediately. My aunt had full bloods taken and an ECG within 15 minutes of arriving. She is now in a room in a bed, not on a trolley. More good news needed.”   

Such good news is evidently welcome yet that good news does not constitute the entire story either within UHW or across the health service as a whole.  

Yet how can it be that this newspaper finds itself writing about an issue which it has reported upon and addressed with vigour and concern each January for the better part of 20 years? What – or who to be more precise – is responsible for Groundhog Day in the health service?  

Dr Paddy Condon, who speaks with a lifetime in medicine to draw upon, told Claire Quinn this week: “All the viruses are around this time of year (means) you are going to have an increase (in illnesses) and you need more beds. The Minister (Stephen Donnelly) said himself that we need 5,000 beds to cope with it, but we don’t have them. It is a total disaster from the Government’s point of view.” He bluntly added: “We’ve had this for 20 years. There are never enough beds to cope.” 

Professor Alan Irvine of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), responding to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly’s call for consultants to work more at evenings and weekends, justly pointed out our level of population growth over the past 20 years.   

During those two decades, no new acute hospital has been built anywhere in the State, he said, before pointing out that there are fewer acute beds in the system now than there were in 2003.   

Echoing what Dr Condon told Claire Quinn: “This is a capacity issue. I was talking about it last January and someone will be talking about it next January. This will continue unless the issue is addressed.” 

Last October, Minister Donnelly said the country needed 2,000 more consultants, an open admission that we don’t have enough consultants in the system. More consultants and more beds are urgently needed at UHW and throughout the health service. And we need them now.   

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