Friday 18 January 2019

Doctors had warned lack of 24/7 care was a risk that would inevitably cost lives

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

There is more bad news today for the patients and doctors who believe the limited cardiac services for patients in the south east will cost lives.

A long-promised national review of cardiac care, including cath labs which can provide vital emergency treatments to widen and unblock arteries, only got underway in January.

It will take about another 18 months to finish the report - so it will be that long before any major decisions are taken on the call to provide 24/7 cath lab services in University Hospital Waterford and extend its use beyond Monday to Friday office hours, the Irish Independent has learned.

Tragic deaths like those of Thomas Power and Una McDermott, who were unlucky enough to suffer a heart attack on a Sunday when the Waterford cath lab is closed, were predicted by doctors in the hospital after a bombshell report in 2016 turned down the appeal to open a second cath lab.

The Department of Health-commissioned report by Niall Herity said it was not merited on clinical grounds. Over 95pc of the work done in Waterford is planned and only 4pc is emergency.

The existing lab should increase its capacity by 20pc, he said.

The report was denounced by doctors in the hospital who said the catchment population of 286,147 cited was too low and the true figure was 500,000.

There are six regional centres in the country for treating serious cardiac cases but Waterford is the only one that does not operate 24/7.

The main option for patients who have a heart attack in the region in the evening or at weekends is to hope they make it to Cork University Hospital on time.

If this is by ambulance they are at the mercy of poor roads and traffic. In order to get their helicopter they must first pray one is available and get to the local airport, which again consumes time when there may be none to spare.

Last September a mobile lab was installed in the campus of the hospital.

But it does not provide an out-of-hours service and was mainly employed in trying to reduce the numbers of patients on waiting lists for planned procedures.

However, there are still 339 patients waiting months in many cases for planned angioplasty or stents.

The mobile unit is now to stay until June such is the demand for care.

The battle for the second cath lab in Waterford has been portrayed as a classic form of "parish pump" pressure aimed at undermining independent decision-making based on clinical criteria.

This was due to the role of Junior Minister John Halligan, who claimed it was part of his deal for supporting the Government. But he has accepted the compromises since then and has not resigned after all.

The capital cost of another cath lab is not huge, at around €2.4m.

There would be the added cost of staffing.

But what price can you put on the loss of a young father and talented botanist?

It is a question the experts who will draw up the national review of cardiac services must weigh up not just for Waterford but other parts of the country.

Irish Independent

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