8 January 2020
By Bryan Smyth
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) which represents over 90% of hospital consultants has warned that the decision yesterday (Monday, 6 January 2019) to cancel all elective surgery at Cork hospitals will have severe knock-on consequences for patient health outcomes.
Management at Cork Hospitals announced that they intend to cancel elective surgery in the region’s hospitals for three days from Monday to Wednesday, inclusive. It is understood that this decision will be re-examined at the end of this period, but there remains a risk that the cancellation of these surgeries may continue for a prolonged period, given the capacity issues at Cork hospitals.
However, the IHCA has criticised the decision stating that all non-essential surgery has already been cancelled in the city’s main hospitals since mid-December, with the decision to postpone remaining essential elective procedures meaning all planned surgery has now been cancelled.
It is understood that vulnerable patients awaiting essential surgery will be impacted by the decision as timely access to planned procedures is critical. This includes cancer patients waiting for a number of time-critical procedures.
According to IHCA President Dr. Donal O’Hanlon: “The decision to cancel all remaining elective surgery at Cork’s acute public hospitals is simply not acceptable. It is forcing hospitals and the consultants who treat patients to determine which patient is more worthy of treatment.
“No hospital consultant wants to tell a patient waiting for essential breast or prostate cancer surgery that their critical treatment has been cancelled and, worse still, that they are not in a position to tell that patient when it will be rescheduled.
“The decision to cancel life enhancing surgery for patients with conditions such as cancer, where it is accepted that early surgical intervention is key to better long-term health outcomes, is another knee-jerk reaction and poorly thought-out. It undermines our commitment to care for already vulnerable patients.
“The Minister for Health, HSE, Cork politicians and other stakeholders need to realise that there is a huge variance between different types of surgeries. Some elective surgery can be postponed in circumstances where a delay of weeks or months, while not ideal, will not impact significantly on overall health outcomes. This has been the case in Cork hospitals since mid-December. However, in the case of other surgeries, these procedures are essential and ensuring that surgery occurs within a determined timeframe is key to each patient’s long-term recovery. It is these essential surgeries which have now also been cancelled in Cork”.
The IHCA has noted that its consultant members have expressed serious concerns that the decision to cancel complex and time-critical surgeries at Cork hospitals will now be replicated across Ireland’s acute public hospitals, particularly those with the greatest trolley pressures over the coming days and weeks.
Spikes in demands on our public hospitals during the winter months are predictable and effective planning should be able to manage the situation. Yet the HSE and Department of Health have consistently failed to plan ahead, leaving hospitals faced with such difficult decisions.
Dr O’Hanlon noted: “Hospital consultants at the front-line in the delivery of care to patients are deeply distressed at what is unfolding at Cork’s hospitals. Cancelling essential surgery cannot even credibly be presented as a solution to the ongoing lack of capacity and overcrowding at our acute public hospitals. Describing it as a solution suggests it is solving a problem when in truth, it is removing access to surgery for patients with very complex needs.
“Minister Harris and the HSE need to put in place well thought-out, meaningful actions which don’t simply move the bottleneck from one part of the hospital to another or address the needs of one category of patients, whilst penalising another”.