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Patients must self-isolate before going under the knife as hospitals tackle surgery backlog

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On the mend: Beverly Maloney, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, who had knee surgery last month. Photo: Kevin McNulty

On the mend: Beverly Maloney, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, who had knee surgery last month. Photo: Kevin McNulty

On the mend: Beverly Maloney, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, who had knee surgery last month. Photo: Kevin McNulty

Patients undergoing planned surgery are now having to self-isolate for a week to 14 days as part of the "new normal" in hospitals due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Public and private hospitals have now resumed operations on waiting list patients after mass cancellations were ordered in March, pushing the number of people queueing for surgery to 86,343.

Dr John Lunn, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hermitage Medical Clinic in Lucan, Dublin, who is operating on public patients referred from Tullamore Hospital, said the pandemic had led to an overhaul in procedures and how patients were managed.

People's temperatures are checked before entering the hospital to determine if they have a fever, which could be one of the signs of Covid-19.

Dr Lunn said patients who were due to have planned surgery awee advised they must self-isolate for at least a week in advance at home.

"The week before surgery is most important. They are then swabbed 48 hours before the surgery and tested for Covid-19," he said.

If the swab is clear, it can go ahead and if not it will be postponed unless emergency surgery is needed.

Procedures in the theatre have also changed, with environmental precautions before and after the operation.

It all adds to the length of time involved which can impact on the number of patients treated in a day.

More outpatient contacts with patients who have been for diagnostics are also done over the phone instead of in person, Dr Lunn added.

Dr Bairbre Golden, who is an anaesthetist in the hospital, said patients were also having to get used to seeing their doctors in full protective clothing where they could resemble a "spaceman".

"When I meet the patient, I have a face mask and gloves. The patient, nurse and myself walk to the theatre and I say to them 'when you see me again I will look like an alien'," she said.

"I have to don the PPE and put on a full gown, gloves to my wrists, goggles and face masks. I then put on a plastic apron and a pair of disposable gloves. The nurse is also in full PPE.

"It is different for patients and we try to joke to relieve the stress. I hope we can make it as easy as possible for them but it can be stressful.

"I am grateful to have the PPE and it can be extremely hot in it but it is now second nature."

Beverly Maloney, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, badly in- jured her knee after slipping on ice last October.

She suffered a dull ache in her knee and was all set to have surgery at Tullamore Hospital in April but it was cancelled because of the coronavirus risk.

"I was semi-urgent but the surgery had to be postponed," Ms Maloney said.

However, much to her relief, she was called in to have a knee arthroscopy procedure last month with surgeon Eoin Sheehan.

She counts herself lucky to be among those who made it off the waiting list.

In just two months, all the progress made in reducing numbers on the public waiting list for surgery nationally was wiped out.

Last month's figures are a new high, exceeding the previous peak recorded in July 2017.

The numbers of patients waiting over a year to see a specialist at an outpatient clinic rose from 173,202 to 194,110 - another record high.

Irish Independent