herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Patients in hospitals facing fines may have to travel for treatment

Leo Varadkar Pic Frank Mc Grath
Leo Varadkar Pic Frank Mc Grath

A PLAN that could see patients moved to another part of the country for treatment if they are attending a hospital which has been fined has been branded “crazy” by health professionals.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said that penalties would be imposed on hospitals which keep public patients waiting longer than 18 months for surgery or a specialist appointment.

The funding will instead be diverted to hospitals meeting targets, as part as a carrot-and-stick scheme.

Crazy

However, the plan was yesterday described as “crazy” by leading Dublin consultant Professor Michael O’Keeffe, an ophthalmologist at the Mater Hospital.

He said that the funding withdrawal would hurt the hospitals that need financial assistance most – ultimately affecting patients.

“Hospitals will end up cutting in other areas under this plan,” he warned.

Prof O’Keeffe said some hospitals, such as Temple Street Children’s Hospital, had to operate rolling theatre closures because of a lack of nurses.

It means around 80 to 100 operations a month for children were being cancelled.

He noted that consultants in some hospitals had not changed their work practices and were not discharging patients at weekends to reduce pressure on beds.

Latest figures show that over 12,000 public patients are on waiting lists for a specialist appointment or surgery.

The minister said that 300 extra beds are due to open before the end of the year. But this will involve capital works, and the roll-out of additional beds faces difficulties due to a shortage of nurses.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that patients in hospitals where funding was withdrawn may be offered care in another hospital which is part of its group.

These hospital groups cover several counties.

However, it may also involve travelling to another hospital group a considerable distance away.

They may be treated in a private hospitals where they may be seen by a different consultant.

“Patients may, of course, elect to remain on their current waiting list,” said the spokesman.

“There will also be a small number of cases where the complexity of individual patient requirements is such that it would be inappropriate to refer them to another hospital.”

Facilitated

He said patient choice would be “facilitated as much as possible”.

Dr Gerard Crotty, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said that acute hospitals simply do not have sufficient resources to provide a seven-days-a-week service as it stands. Despite this, consultants currently provide 24/7 on-call care and treat patients in hospitals over the weekends,” he said.

“As a result of the medical brain drain, consultants are extremely overstretched with acute hospitals having far too few consultants to provide high-quality safe care to patients.

“Our acute hospitals are still failing to recruit the number of consultants they need,” he added.

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