Lack of anaesthetists putting patients at risk, doctor warns
PATIENT safety is at risk because of a serious lack of anaesthetists in the main hospital serving the north east, a doctor has warned in a confidential letter.
The letter, a copy of which has been seen by the Irish Independent, reveals that nine of the 14 junior doctor posts for anaesthetists in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, are unfilled.
"It is now obvious that the present level of anaesthetic cover is highly unsafe for patients and staff," the letter from consultant anaesthetist Michael Staunton warned.
Sent to Louth Meath Hospital Group's clinical director Dominic O'Brannagain earlier this month and copied to other senior managers and risk advisers, the letter warns of "a crisis".
The lead clinician in the department of anaesthesia said that unless effective action is taken patients will "suffer adverse outcomes" and it will become even more difficult to recruit senior and junior doctors to work in the hospital.
The hospital is now struggling to cope with an influx of patients as services in other hospitals in the region have been scaled back, including the recent controversial ending of acute and emergency surgery in Our Lady's Hospital in Navan.
A shortage of junior doctors in hospitals across the country was signalled earlier this summer in advance of the normal six-monthly changeover in July when more than 4,000 of the medics switch posts.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) attempted an overseas recruitment campaign to try to fill posts that did not offer training credits, but several hospitals, including Our Lady of Lourdes, still remain short of some specialists.
Spelling out the concerns for patient safety in Our Lady of Lourdes, Dr Staunton said that under current arrangements one of the two anaesthetist doctors from a locum agency cannot work there during normal hours because of on-call rotas.
They may be unfamiliar with the hospital and clinical service, with significant implications for patient safety, he added.
"We are in the process of recruiting additional locum consultant anaesthetists. However it has proven very difficult to attract suitable candidates to temporary, unapproved posts," he said.
"The consultant anaesthetists have done their best to maintain the level and safety of the anaesthetic service. However it is now obvious that the present anaesthetic cover is highly unsafe for patients and staff."
He said, "efforts to recruit additional anaesthetists are not working". "I have no reason to believe the situation will be any better in January 2011."
A spokesperson for the HSE in the north east said: "Discussions are ongoing between management in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and the consultants regarding their concerns about anaesthetic cover.
"Since the end of June all emergency and complex care for Louth is provided in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. These new arrangements were put in place to ensure patient safety and services are maintained. While they were part of the HSE's Transformation Programme, they were accelerated due to the difficulties in recruiting junior doctors to Louth."