Senior doctors urge Donnelly to end ‘healthcare inequalities’ in the west

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Eilish O'Regan

A group of seven senior specialists in the west have pleaded with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to end the “healthcare inequalities” faced by patients due the ageing and “unfit for purpose” Galway University Hospital.

In a strongly worded letter to the minister in advance of his visit to the hospital today, the seven doctors, led by chief clinical director of the Saolta group, Pat Nash, said there is an urgent need to appoint a project team to drive forward the promised new cancer centre, emergency department, women’s and children’s unit and laboratories.

In their letter, the doctors said: “We believe that we have a once in a generation opportunity to bridge the healthcare inequalities which have arisen as a result of failure to strategically develop appropriate regional healthcare infrastructure for the west of Ireland.”

Prof Michael Kerin, director Saolta-University of Galway Cancer Network, has already warned the west and north-west are the most disadvantaged and geographically dispersed with the highest rates and death from cancer.

“The only Model 4 hospital, Galway University Hospital, in our region is overcrowded and cancer patients are competing with emergency patients for beds and services daily.

“The lack of fit-for-purpose facilities means patients do not get the necessary care they need,” he said.

“Some patients are diagnosed too late to receive the appropriate care they could have received if diagnosis had been earlier. In a modern, advanced country like Ireland, your outcome from cancer should not depend on where you live.

“Cancer care in Ireland is an Eircode lottery – we know what is required to solve this problem and that solution is already on the National Development Plan (NDP).

“Delivery of the cancer centre committed in the NDP will require an integrated, comprehensive plan for the Model 4 hospital site and needs a whole of government approach. Support for the plan has been forthcoming from the HSE, the Department of Health and the National Cancer Control Programme, but the remaining hurdles to progressing this project need to be cleared as quickly as possible.

“Good cancer care can only be delivered out of a functioning cancer centre with appropriate regional facilities. There are four heavyweight Model 4 hospitals within a 10-mile radius in Dublin but the west and north-west is delivering care from an outdated, dysfunctional infrastructure.”

The doctors are understood to be concerned that the same urgency as was seen in progressing construction in the Mater Hospital in Dublin has not been applied to the west.

They point to reports that a new 98-bed unit in the Mater was pushed through after a business case was pulled together in two weeks and the plan was “approved by the HSE in six weeks”.

They said: “The urgency around this is self-evident and we plead with you to utilise your position to influence this important development for the patients across the west and north-west of Ireland and the current and next generation of healthcare providers.”

Mr Donnelly has previously said reforms around the public spending code will have a positive impact on the timeline for major capital projects.

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