Letterkenny University Hospital
The hospitals within the Saolta Group including Letterkennny and Sligo University Hospitals have started working on plans to resume some of the hospital services which were put on hold in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the national public health measures introduced in March, people were advised to stay at home and hospital appointments and procedures were paused so that hospitals had the best chance of dealing with an anticipated but unknown increase in patients presenting with COVID-19.
The hospitals are now seeing a reduction in the number of patients being admitted with COVID-19 and a reduction in the number of patients in the ICUs who are COVID-19 positive.
This is due to the compliance with the public health measures to date. The hospitals are now planning to resume services incrementally while also protecting patients and staff by using virtual clinics where possible and appropriate, pre-screening patients before attending the hospital and ensuring social distancing and hand hygiene is practised.
As part of a national agreement, the HSE has entered into an arrangement with the private hospital sector for three months within the option to extend for up to five months by agreement with both parties.
It is aimed at supporting timely and appropriate access to specialist services such as cancer and cardiovascular surgeries, outpatient appointments, day cases and diagnostics. Within the Saolta Group, patients are being treated at Kingsbridge Private Hospital Sligo and in the Galway Clinic and Bon Secours Hospital in Galway. All patients treated under the arrangement are deemed public and are therefore not liable to private charges.
The hospitals are being guided by the National Public Health Emergency Team in terms of the overall response to the pandemic including the volume and types of activity that can be safely undertaken in private and public hospitals at this time.
Seán Murphy, General Manager at Letterkenny University Hospital said, “On Monday 16 March we deferred all but very urgent inpatient, day surgery, diagnostics tests and outpatient appointments to ensure that the hospital had necessary capacity to deal with any increase in suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases.
"Patients with urgent and time-critical cancers and surgeries are now being treated in the private hospitals. We are also working on plans to re-introduce day case and inpatient surgeries at the hospital on a phased basis in line with national guidance and recommendations, including pre-screening and other necessary measures.
“In terms of outpatient activity that will resume in our hospital in the coming weeks, we are identifying the specialties and patients who could have their appointments virtually. This type of clinic is not suited to all specialities or patients and it is something that will be trialled and modified to suit each clinical team.
"We have already started to deliver some services virtually using Attend Anywhere, which is the national platform that is being piloted locally, and further roll out will be over the next few weeks.
“Our Emergency Department has remained open throughout the pandemic and in the last few weeks we have seen an increase in non COVID-19 activity. We have separated our ED into two areas for patients with COVID-19 symptoms and those without and all the necessary precautions in relation to wearing of PPE are being taken to protect patients and staff.
"It is important that people experiencing symptoms such as chest pain or stroke do not delay seeking treatment. The HSE has commenced a radio ad campaign this week to remind people that the EDs are open and not to delay seeking treatment.
“Similarly, if patients are worried about a possible sign of cancer, it is important to make contact with their GP to discuss. This could be a new or changing lump, abnormal bleeding, a skin change, losing weight unintentionally or feeling constantly tired. Although the national screening programmes have been paused, patients who are in-between screening appointments or waiting rescheduled appointments should be aware of and act on any symptoms associated with the conditions being screened for and contact their GP immediately.
The National Screening Service is developing separate roadmaps for the recommencement of the four programmes (BreastCheck, BowelScreen, CervicalCheck and Diabetic RetinaScreen). The restarting of screening will be based on HSE and Department of Health guidance on Covid-19 as measures to prevent Covid-19 are amended by Government.
“In these uncertain times the one constant has been the commitment and hard work demonstrated by all the staff in our hospital at all levels. We have had to radically change the way we care for and interact with patients and each other and this often involves wearing uncomfortable but essential PPE for hours at a time.
Social distancing means that the direct contact that staff would have had with patients is no longer there and yet every day our staff are delivering safe, compassionate care and going above and beyond to make our patients’ hospital experience as comfortable as possible.”
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