Hospital beds lie idle as patients languish on public waiting lists
Hospital beds and theatres are lying idle as patients languish on soaring public waiting lists, the Irish Independent has learned.
There are now 11,533 patients across the country needing some form of orthopaedic surgery.
Many of them are in pain and desperate for a hip or knee replacement.
However, Cappagh Hospital in Dublin, the national orthopaedic centre, is able to run only three of its six theatres every week. It has empty wards despite having its own waiting list of nearly 3,000 patients, some of whom have been in the queue for more than 15 months.
The 159-bed hospital, which treats patients from around the country, receives around €33m in annual funding.
But chief executive Angela Lee said it could open theatres and carry out surgery on many more public patients if its core allocation received a modest increase, allowing it to plan ahead.
"Currently the hospital is only funded to operate 3.5 theatres," she pointed out.
Orthopaedic surgeon Paddy Kenny said: "I see people in my clinic every day who are in agony day and night. They cannot sleep and cannot carry out normal daily activities.
"There are six operating theatres in Cappagh Hospital, but only three of them work on a given day. We have 27 surgeons and enough anaesthetists and beds to run six theatres five days a week.
"If we had just an extra €2m, we could have four of the six operating theatres working every day.
"Another €5m would allow us to have five theatres operating, and with €7.5m we could open all six theatres. If five theatres were opened the doctors could do the equivalent of 20 joint replacements a day - 100 a week."
He believes that in 10 weeks that would amount to 1,000 joint replacements.
"If we did 100 joints a week, we could bring the waiting list in Cappagh down to six months and take on work from other hospitals in Tullamore and Letterkenny."
Mr Kenny said the frustration among surgeons was "palpable".
Waiting lists across all specialities are currently rising again because the A&E crisis is forcing hospitals to put most planned surgery on hold.
A spokeswoman for the Ireland East Hospital Group (IEGH), which includes Cappagh Hospital, said its funding allocation for 2018 had not been finalised.
The group is trying to increase the surgical activity in Cappagh and is working with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which has €55m to purchase extra treatments nationally.