Despite all the assurances and promises given it now seems that 1500 people are still waiting for orthopaedic surgery at Merlin Park Hospital. This situation was confirmed in a letter to Minister Harris and copied to local TDs on January 23rd from a consultant surgeon as one of a group of ten orthopaedic surgeons. The letter set out clearly that 1500 people are waiting for complex joint replacements, spinal surgery, foot and ankle and shoulder surgery and that the waiting list continues to expand exponentially. In essence the surgeons are stating that they are back in the same position as they were in September 2017 when the problems first emerged. At that point two theatres were forced to close because of leaks in the ceiling. Between that time and now I have lost count of the number of times I have raised this issue in the Dáil. I have a file of responses confirming that modular theatres would be provided as a matter of urgency and in the intervening period alternative arrangements would be made for the patients.
In May 2018 Saolta confirmed that service had been restored on 21st March 2018 via the provision of one theatre. Separately, I was also informed that Saolta was continuing to work towards the provision of a modular theatre; that was 8 months after the initial closure. It was further confirmed that contract documents had been exchanged and that the modular theatre would be open in October. Five months later on 26th October 2018, and more than a year after the initial closure, I was once again informed that contract documents had been exchanged. However no explanation was given as to why the theatre was not up and I am now informed that it would be mid-2019 before the new theatre building would open.
The latest update from Saolta on 20th November, 2018, fourteen months later, was that the hospital had gone to tender for a modular theatre facility which would provide two replacement theatres and facilitate 20 sessions per week. That update also confirmed that the impact of the closures has been that one third fewer elective operating cases have taken place.
It is completely unacceptable that no progress appears to have been made in the provision of modular theatres almost a year and a half after the initial closure. I welcome the fact that the surgeons have spoken out on behalf of their suffering patients and as well as raising it in the Dáil I have asked Minister Harris for an urgent meeting in this regard.