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Why did the HSE close a 159 bed hospital over Christmas?

Cappagh Hospital in Dublin is not an acute hospital. It is the national orthopaedic hospital, with 159 beds, and seven state of the art operating theatres. It is where you go when you need an operation on your bones, or muscles.

It does not accept, and is not equipped to handle, Covid patients.

However, at the beginning of the pandemic, it became an overflow hospital for the Mater, accepting many acute trauma patients from the Mater to make space in that hospital for covid patients.

As case numbers surged over Christmas, many staff at Cappagh expected to work through Christmas, accepting overflow patients from the Mater once more, as case numbers surged. They were shocked and surprised when they heard that Cappagh hospital was instead to be closed down over Christmas, with its 159 beds. The hospital remains closed today, according to a staff member who spoke to Gript.

The staff member said that he was moved to contact Gript after hearing on the radio that the Mater Hospital was calling on the public to avoid its emergency department:

Meanwhile, the Mater Hospital in north Dublin has called on the public to avoid its emergency department due to the “extreme pressure” it is under.

In a statement, the hospital said that the current Covid wave, together with high numbers of ED presentations and ongoing staff absences due to Covid isolation, means that patients with non-urgent conditions are experiencing lengthy waiting times to be seen.

On the evening of New Year’s Eve, the Mater had 47 Covid-19 patients, the second highest number in the State. At the same time, the hospital had one intensive care bed free.

“This makes no sense to me”, the staff member who spoke to Gript said. “On the radio, we’re hearing that the hospital system is approaching crisis, breaking point, shutting down A&E, and all the rest of it, and here we are, with 159 beds, and not one person in any of them, when we could be helping take some of the pressure off”

“This is how it was done at the start of the pandemic. We took all the acute orthopaedic cases, freeing up beds and nurses in the Mater. We could do the same today, but we’re sitting closed”.

The type of patient who could be easily transferred to Cappagh, were it open, are those with fractures, muscle tears, or other injuries to bone or muscle, Gript understands. Such injuries tend to present at a relatively constant number over the course of a year, unlike colds, flus, and other seasonal illnesses. At any given time, patients with such injuries might occupy 20-50 beds in the Mater, and other major hospitals.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Irish Government was so eager for additional bed capacity that it purchased the right to use beds in private hospitals. Not all of these beds, or indeed many of them, were ultimately used.

The staff member who spoke to Gript said that in his estimation, the closure of Cappagh at a time of purported crisis made little sense.

“It’s odd watching the news and they’re saying crisis, crisis, crisis, and we’re sitting here with empty beds. If there was a crisis, surely they’d be using our beds. And if there is a crisis, and they are not using our beds, then someone needs to be fired yesterday”.

Gript Media approached the HSE with questions about the closure of Cappagh Hospital and offered 24 hours for a reply before publication.

At this hour, no such reply has been received. Should that change, we will update this piece.

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