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Children could die waiting for surgery

CHILDREN could be put at risk of blindness or even death by a plan to close one operating theatre at Temple Street children’s hospital on a rolling basis.

One of the four operating theatres is to be closed on a rolling basis from next week to save money and help the hospital remain within budget this year.

Eye surgeon Professor Michael O’Keefe at the hospital, has warned the move could mean that children with serious eye problems could go blind or even die from cancerous eye tumours.

The hospital says the decision is part of a cost-containment plan agreed by the board to address a significant budget deficit.

Consultant ophthalmologist Prof O’Keefe described as “GUBU-like” the way the hospital should have to scale back on theatre time when the Department of Health was threatening to fine hospitals that had patients on lengthy waiting lists.

The Department of Health’s special delivery unit has issued a warning to children’s hospitals that where a child is waiting for more than 20 weeks the hospital would be fined €25,000 for every month the child was not treated.

Prof O’Keefe warned children with tumours of the eye or eye problems could be pushed aside to allow the hospitals to carry out more routine procedures in a bid to avoid the fines.

“It could mean that children with malignant tumours of the eye are not treated on time – with life-threatening consequences,” he said.

Temple Street hospital said the HSE had ordered it to reduce its activity levels in line with its level of funding.

Last year, 7,280 patients were treated in theatre, exceeding the hospital’s funded activity levels by 12pc. This would need to be cut to 873 to return to 2010 levels.

A statement said the plan would be subject to ongoing review “in order to achieve required activity levels”.

The hospital is also in discussions with the HSE to consider its financial situation and funding. Meanwhile, the HSE has described the finance cut for Temple Street as “significantly less than average”.

The Department of Health said its special delivery unit would “absolutely expect hospitals to treat its most urgent cases first”. It said the fines were “to send a loud message into the hospital system to manage their non-urgent waiting list chronologically”.