'It is unacceptable' - Hospital puts cancer tests on hold after A&E swamped
VITAL investigations used to identify cancer and other serious illnesses have been put on hold at a major city hospital in a bid to free up space for A&E patients.
Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown has been forced to give over its endoscopy suite to make room for emergency patients.
It means patients who should be in wards are being put on stretchers in the endoscopy area meant for short-term use.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said the move was due to the influx of patients at A&E.
"Non-urgent endoscopy cases were cancelled this week with all urgent cases proceeding as planned," she added.
However, Fianna Fail Dublin West TD Jack Chambers said he had major concerns about the impact on patient care.
Hospitals should not have to suspend vital screening of patients that may show up cancer, he added.
Such procedures can "detect life-threatening illness", he said.
"It is unacceptable that hospitals are cancelling gastrointestinal investigations and cancer screenings because of the overcrowding chaos in emergency departments," Mr Chambers added.
"These day wards and beds are inappropriate to be used as a spillover for seriously ill inpatients being admitted to overcrowded A&Es.
"It is particularly troubling when this surge in emergency departments' admissions was entirely predictable.
"Our hospital system's repeated cancellation of elective procedures and diagnostic investigations shows the system is at a continuous breaking point."
Mr Chambers said that while Health Minister Simon Harris had cancelled plans to travel abroad for St Patrick's Day he was "silent" on how he proposed to end the crisis.
"Continued announcements about throwing more money at our health service will not change the dysfunctional health system he refuses to reform," Mr Chambers said.
"He must show real leadership in the coming days and weeks and explain to patients and overworked staff what immediate actions are being taken to address this problem."
The warning comes as hospitals saw little respite in overcrowding yesterday, with 585 patients waiting for a bed across the country.
The highest numbers in Dublin were in Tallaght Hospital where 29 patients endured delays on trolleys. The Mater Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital were also struggling.
There are fears that next week will see another dangerous spike in trolley numbers as patients crowd into hospitals after St Patrick's weekend.
The HSE said the emergency response this week had led to the cancellation of non-urgent inpatient procedures across most hospital sites.
"In all cases the hospital will contact patients to let them know if their procedures are going ahead," a spokesman said.
"In some sites, day surgery will be postponed in order to allow hospitals to provide beds for emergency patients.
"Where necessary, hospitals will contact patients directly to advise on any postponements."
The spokesman said hospitals were continuing to focus on discharging patients.
"Last week a further €5m was allocated to 13 hospitals to support the purchase of home support packages for the next four weeks," he added.
"Public hospitals continue to engage with private hospitals to transfer suitable patients where clinically appropriate, and beds are available in major urban centres.
"We continue to utilise a significant number of additional beds which are open across the system with 621 additional beds open."
Hospital emergency consultants have warned it is essential that plans are made now to ensure that the gridlock in A&Es next winter is not even worse.
Although extra beds are promised, it is unclear how many will be in place and there is the added obstacle of trying to find staff to cater for them.
Meanwhile, GPs who are seeing a spike in their workload are becoming increasingly angry at the failure of the Government to reverse cuts in fees imposed during the recession.
Dr Padraig McGarry, GP leader in the Irish Medical Organisation, said Health Minister Mr Harris had indicated negotiations on reversing the cuts and drawing up a new contract for family doctors would begin in April.
He said it was essential that the talks produced a "roadmap".
The aim is for GPs to provide more patient care in areas such as diabetes and respiratory illness in the community.
This would help to take some of the pressure off hospitals and free up space.