The need for expanded cardiac services in the south east has been a big issue for people who live in the region. On foot of a number of meetings with Members of the Oireachtas of all parties from across the south east, the Minister for Health agreed to carry out a national review that would look at the provision of primary percutaneous coronary intervention, PPCI, or emergency cardiac care not just in the south east but across the State.
The south east is the only PPCI centre that has a single catheterisation laboratory. The clinicians and consultants say that it is neither viable nor the best method because it is a single point of failure. When the laboratory runs into difficulty at any time or needs to be repaired, the service is shut down. In fact, the catheterisation laboratory has closed on three occasions in the past month because of maintenance problems. Funding has been made available to upgrade the catheterisation laboratory at University Hospital Waterford, but hospital management cannot do it until it has a contingency in place because it would mean closing the laboratory for approximately three months. Having no emergency cases going to the hospital at any time of the day and especially during the busy weekdays for that length of time would be unacceptable.
I am anxious to know the current position regarding the national review. When it was established, the Minister stated that he hoped it would take 15 months but that it might take 18. It has certainly been in place for longer than that. I accept that it has a great deal of work to do. It involves public consultation and going to all the regions and meeting all the stakeholders, including consultants, in each of the PPCI centres. However, we must have an indication of when it will conclude its work, and some certainty must be given to patients across the region that there is a safe and accessible service. Clinicians must guide policy in this area.
To transition to a 24-7 PPCI service will require additional specialist staff and we all accept that. However, people in the south east deserve to have the same opportunities as anybody else and, from a logical perspective, it is not safe that patients who experience an emergency heart attack outside the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday have to travel to either Cork or Dublin for care because it is not provided 24-7 in the south east. A second catheterisation laboratory is being progressed and is at design stage. That it has taken so long even to get it to that stage is just adding to the frustration of people in Waterford and the south east. They were expecting far more progress on this and to see its delivery more quickly. The commitment has been given, the funding is available and it is at design 2 stage. A private hospital is constructing another catheterisation laboratory so, hopefully, we will end up with three such laboratories operating in Waterford in the next 12 months or so. With that in place it makes perfect sense to expand the service to a 24-7 one. That cannot happen overnight, however. It is important that the review group concludes its work and makes it recommendation, which hopefully will be a positive one that Waterford should become a 24-7 PPCI centre. For that to happen it must recruit the staff and have the interventional cardiologists, support staff, radiographers and so forth. That is why I am anxious that the report would be concluded and make its recommendation. If it is positive, the groundwork can be done and we can deliver this service for the people of the region.