The emergency department at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) had the highest number of people waiting on trolleys for a bed in the country last month, despite the opening of a new €24 million unit six weeks ago.
There were 640 patients waiting for a bed in the hospital last month, having been admitted through the emergency department, figures produced by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) showed this week.
Hospital management are blaming a spike in numbers attending the emergency department as part of the cause.
The hospital also had the highest figures nationally for the first six months of this year, with 4,120 people waiting on trolleys for admission between January and the end of June, an increase from 3,746 on the same six months last year and up from 3,633 the year before that.
“The figures are stark, four thousand one hundred and twenty. This is a four-fold increase on the figures from 2006,” said Limerick Sinn Féin Deputy, Maurice Quinlivan.
“The number represents the highest ever recorded since the INMO started collating such figures. The trolley watch numbers for the month itself are also a complete disgrace with 640 patients on trolleys, representing a significant increase.”
Meanwhile, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that in excess of 47 per cent of ambulances dropping patients off at the University Hospital Limerick emergency department were kept waiting for up to an hour just to hand them over.
Records for the period January to June 2016 show that almost half of all ambulances bringing patients to the emergency department were kept there for between 30 and 60 minutes.
In each month, ambulances and their crew spent around 800 hours of ‘downtime’ waiting outside the emergency department, putting them out of circulation for other calls.
In response to a query from the Limerick Post, a hospital spokeswoman said that in the University Hospital Limerick emergency department ”May and June saw a significant increase with both months up by around six per cent compared to 2016.
The facility was the busiest in the country with almost 65,000 attendances in 2016 which represented a 4.6 per cent increase. In the first six months of 2017, 32,983 patients presented which was a 2.5 per cent increase on 2016.
“Of the number of patients presenting, the proportion requiring admission, including many frail and elderly patients, has also increased. In some weeks during May and June, the number of patients aged over 75 years increased by up to ten per cent.
“UL Hospitals Group regrets that any patient has to face long waits in our emergency department during busy periods and a number of measures are taken to relieve pressure on the unit, in line with our escalation plan.
The measures include transferring patients to other hospitals and to community care, where appropriate, the spokeswoman said.
“As a last resort, extra beds are put on wards,” she added.
Elective surgeries and admissions are reviewed “on a case by case basis” and postponed if necessary.
“A major Patient Flow Project is also underway which is identifying ways to improve processes and systems in the emergency department.
“A Discharge Suite is in operation at University Hospital Limerick for patients being transferred or discharged and conditions for patients waiting in the emergency department for admission have vastly improved, with single rooms or designated treatment bays.
“UL Hospitals plans to open an interim short stay unit for admitted patients in the paediatric area/clinical decision unit of the old emergency department. This will have capacity for 17 patients and should be open in the coming weeks following a deep clean, minor works and staff recruitment.”
The spokeswoman added that 20 beds remain closed in St John’s hospital to allow for refurbishment over the summer months and these will be opened as soon as possible.
“University Hospital Limerick has 400 inpatient beds which are recognised as not being sufficient for the needs of the MidWest Region. A bid to build an additional 96 bed block on the UHL site has been submitted to the Department of Health and approval has been granted for funding of the design stage of the build.
“In the long-term, these additional beds are required to address the deficit in acute bed capacity in the region,” she explained.
By Bernie English & Paul Saunders