Wednesday 13 December 2017

I walk my dog instead of doing operations, says angry surgeon

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Peter O’Rourke in his office at Letterkenny General Hospital. Photo: Declan Doherty
Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Peter O’Rourke in his office at Letterkenny General Hospital. Photo: Declan Doherty
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

A hospital surgeon whose operations are being constantly cancelled has said his life has turned into a depressing version of Groundhog Day.

Peter O'Rourke, an orthopaedic surgeon, said a lack of beds, and the priority given to patients on trolleys, means his usual morning theatre lists are being put on hold - forcing him to go for walks instead of operating on people who have been on waiting lists for a year for a new hip.

Mr O'Rourke, who works in Letterkenny Hospital in Donegal, was echoing the exasperation of surgeons across the country, who have been blocked from carrying out their normal amount of surgeries for several months because of the deal agreed with nurses to cancel admission of waiting-list patients when the number of people waiting on trolleys reached a certain level.

The knock-on effects are revealed in the latest public hospital figures showing 72,881 people are waiting for surgery and almost 400,000 for an appointment to see a specialist.

He said: "I have around 140 patients waiting. I see a lot of patients who need joint replacements. We saw around 60 patients on Friday and 30 of them needed replacements.

"I could do five of these operations a day but instead people are being contacted at 7pm the evening before surgery and told it is cancelled. I don't bother coming in until later in the morning. I take the dog for a walk or look out the window."

It is not possible to hold outpatient clinics as an alternative at such short notice because of the need to give notice to patients and have staff available.

Mr O'Rourke has written to acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar, other members of the Cabinet and TDs to highlight his concerns and outline how hospitals have changed over the years.

"We have a beds crisis, not a trolley crisis," he said. In some instances beds are lying idle but his patients cannot be operated on because they cannot share a ward with others who might pass on infection.

"At least Leo Varadkar has been honest in saying there is no quick fix. The first three months of the year are always bad for cancellations but this year has been worse."

He insisted a five to 10-year plan for the health service is needed.

Private patients are also having their surgery cancelled. Some have seen their operations put back six times.

"Having qualified in medicine in 1983 I have witnessed changes in hospitals for 33 years. It is only by understanding these one can really analyse the problem and plan to resolve it. I am retiring in six to seven years and do not expect any improvements in that time."

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said actions were being taken to reduce lists and the latest figures were due to peak winter demand for emergency care. Fine Gael is proposing a special €50m fund, with funding targeted at the most urgent cases and those waiting longest.

Irish Independent

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