I sincerely thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me in permitting me to raise the ongoing situation at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar. Regretfully, I have to raise it again, particularly the decision to suspend elective procedures at the Longford-Westmeath regional hospital in Mullingar, which is extremely important in terms of its location for the citizens of Longford and Westmeath and as a central and pivotal hospital for that region. Theatres at the hospital will only be staffed with cover for obstetrics for a further three month period for emergencies and for children.
These measures were recently announced at the hospital but, as in the case of many matters concerning the HSE, it is difficult to extract information from it. These measures clearly led to reduced activity at this important, progressive and most efficient hospital. It is one of the most efficient hospitals in the country in terms of all the parameters, output data and case mix assessment that are now used to determine degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.
I raised the issue of the severe bed shortage that has led to record numbers of patients being placed on trolleys in the accident and emergency department of the hospital. In the last few days of October, in excess of 130 patients were on trolleys. This is the position at one of the busiest hospitals and most efficient accident and emergency departments in the country and it arises because up to five wards have been closed in the hospital.
In October 2007, there were only four patients on trolleys; in October 2008, there were 11; in October 2009, there were 70; and in October 2010, there were 132, which represents a 3,200% increase compared to 2007. The number of patients who were on trolleys up to the end of October 2010 was 1,620, which represents a 392% increase compared to the same period in 2009. In the first four days of November, 24 patients have been on trolleys in the hospital.
Staff in the accident and emergency department are working to the very limits of their capacities and endeavours. They are at breaking point and are deeply concerned as they are expected to care for the ever increasing numbers of patients arriving in this department. I am not surprised at the fact that this situation has now arisen at the hospital, as I predicted this would inevitably arise when 41 inpatient beds were removed from the hospital almost two years ago. This has given rise to significant overcrowding in the accident and emergency department in this context. I am talking about the second most efficient hospital in the country in terms of effectiveness, outputs, case mix assessment and other assessment factors.
In recent days management in the hospital made a decision, as far as I can ascertain, to suspend elective procedures and the operating theatres will only be staffed to a level to facilitate obstetrics and emergency cover, scopes and cover for children; in other words, all elective adult surgery will be suspended with only seven of the 18 staff being utilised. As a result, they will only be able to operate one of the theatres effectively and facilitate emergencies as I outlined.
We are lucky to have an excellent surgical staff comprising nurses, anaesthesiologists, surgeons and all the other ancillary staff in this hospital, yet routine adult surgery which these people so effectively perform has now been put on hold. I understand that these wards were closed for a specified period but it now appears that it will be extended, although it is somewhat difficult to ascertain the precise intentions of the HSE as it has the happy knack of being extremely vague as to its intentions when it is questioned. As I understand it, even the trade union representatives have still to be fully informed in respect of these issues.
It is abundantly clear that in respect of a person's health, early investigation and detection is extremely important and that, once a person is diagnosed, early treatment would follow. Thus, it is important that elective procedures take place as quickly as possible after diagnosis. If what I have been informed in regard to elective procedures at Mullingar hospital takes place, all that will happen is that waiting lists will build up and grow longer and people will suffer unnecessarily.
The perception locally is that the hospital is being penalised for its great efficiency. It has been too good, as one nurse said to me. People are concerned that what starts off as temporary measures can be elevated to the status of being permanent after a short period. We want a guarantee that this is not the intention of the HSE and that it has no plans to downgrade the important facility of the Midland Regional Hospital for the citizens of Longford and Westmeath.