Spinal surgery waiting times delay ‘cruel and dangerous’

By Mary Dennehy

LENGTHY waiting times for spinal surgeries at Tallaght University Hospital have been described as “cruel and dangerous”, with one local mother left waiting so long that she is now unsuitable for surgery – and is left to live her life in debilitating pain.

Last week it emerged that waiting times for spinal surgeries at Tallaght University Hospital are exceeding 18 months, with many patients waiting longer.

Tallaght Hospital

Lengthy waiting times at Tallaght University Hospital has been described as cruel

According to Tallaght University Hospital, a surge in emergency admissions and an increase in demand for beds has resulted in a reduction of all elective activity.

Last October, The Echo covered the impact these long waiting lists were having on patients, with 491 people at that time awaiting spinal orthopaedic surgery.

One patient The Echo spoke with was 65-year-old Una Gannon Pluck who suffered a number of injuries when she fell down stairs three years ago, injuries that included a broken vertebrae in her back and fractured bones at the base of the neck.

In August 2015, Una, a mother-of-five from Castletymon, met with Tallaght Hospital’s consultant orthopaedic surgeon and was told that her procedure was prioritised as ‘urgent’.

Chronic pain

However, despite living in chronic pain, which was impacting on her ability to live a normal life, Una was still waiting for her procedure in November 2017.

Last week, The Echo contacted Una to see what her progress has been – and due to the length of time she has been left waiting, her condition has deteriorated and she is now unsuitable for surgery.

Una said: “After I spoke with The Echo [last October], I received a letter to go for a new scan.

“However, when I got the results it was too late for me to get the procedure, the bone had fused and the procedure was no longer an option.

“I spent more than two years waiting for this procedure. I waited all that time to get my life back and then nothing happens.”

She added: “Because of my age there is no other option for me.

“I basically have to live with this now, every day in pain using morphine patches… and taking strong painkillers when things get really bad… because I was left waiting on a list.”

Dublin South West TD, Sean Crowe (Sinn Fein) has described the delays in spinal surgeries as “cruel and dangerous”.

 “I summited a PQ [Parliamentary Question] on this after hearing personal stories from two separate constituents”, Deputy Crowe said.

“One claimed she was waiting, in pain, over 28 months for vital surgery for scoliosis in Tallaght Hospital and another is waiting 30 months, also in chronic pain, and in need of spinal fusion.

“Unfortunately these are just two sample cases from a mountain of patients waiting longer and longer for their life changing operations.”

On extremely addictive drugs

He added: “It is cruel and dangerous, and many people are being left for years on extremely addictive drugs that can cause other negative and unforeseen reactions.

“The backlog is a symptom of the health care crisis and a shortage of beds in the hospital system.

“Tallaght University Hospital has a brownfield site that could deliver additional beds in 18 months.

“The other bonus is that the construction would not impact negatively on the day-to-day running of the hospital. It just needs the Health Service Executive (HSE) and Minister Simon Harris to sign off on the build.”

When contacted by The Echo, a spokesperson for Tallaght Hospital, which is the only provider of spinal services in the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, confirmed that the ongoing increase in demand for beds continues to exceed capacity and “regretfully” this has had an impact on elective activity.

The spokesperson said: “The hospital remains in full escalation but has ring-fenced orthopaedic beds to ensure that elective activity can continue.

“We regret the length of time patients have to wait for surgery.

“It is clear that current demand for beds exceeds the hospital’s current available capacity and there is an underlying requirement to develop additional onsite bed capacity.

“We are currently in discussions with the HSE to develop a new 72 single bed facility at the hospital to address these additional capacity requirements.”

The hospital could not provide updated figures on the numbers awaiting procedures.

However, they did confirm that, in the past four months, 150 spinal orthopaedic patients have received surgery.

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