Backlash as hospital ward closes

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Mary Fogarty, INMO Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22
Mary Fogarty, INMO Photograph Liam Burke/Press 22

THE IRISH Nurses and Midwives Organisation has strongly criticised plans by University Hospital Limerick’s management to close an in-patient ward, with the loss of 17 funded medical beds.

The criticism came on Tuesday of this week when there were 76 people waiting for beds on trolleys and in overflow wards in the Emergency Department.

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The beds facing closure are in Ward 1A, primarily for the treatment of medical patients who require short periods of admission. The INMO says it learned of the plans in recent weeks, writing to the CEO on March 6 to object to the loss of hospital capacity.

UHL is the most overcrowded hospital in the country, with the INMO’s daily Trolley Watch showing that 11,400 patients were on trolleys in the hospital in 2018.

INMO Industrial Relations Officer for Limerick, Mary Fogarty, said: “It simply does not make sense to close further beds when faced with such a problem. We need to be going in the opposite direction.

“Closing beds will only worsen Limerick’s overcrowding crisis, leading to compromised treatment and patients being forced to wait on public corridors.”

Meanwhile, Limerick Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan has called on Minister Harris to intervene to keep the 17 beds open.

Deputy O’Sullivan said:  “The Minister can’t allow the beds to close. UL hospital Limerick continues to break all records for all the wrong reasons: losing another 17 beds would make an intolerable situation for patients and staff.”

In a statement, hospital management said that the ward will close to facilitate the completion of works on the new fracture unit. “This is in accordance with the overall plan to redesignate the space occupied by the old Emergency Department at UHL.

“Staff were fully involved in this process, with various teams presenting business cases on optimal use of the old ED.”

The closure was also discussed with the INMO and other unions in 2018, management says. “Management is happy to meet the INMO in respect of matters raised in their letter to the CEO on March 6.”

The statement said that the new fracture clinic will mean shorter waiting times for patients.

UL Hospitals Group said that the plan to close the 17 beds is offset by the opening last month of the 12-bed surgical short stay unit, which is currently operating four days a week, and will open on full-time basis in the coming weeks.

The hospital also opened three additional cardiology beds last week and five bed spaces in the vacated former Acute Medical Assessment Unit are being looked at  to maximise their use.
Management is also examining the opening of the 15-bedded medical ward 4C at weekends

“Separately, UL Hospitals Group continues to focusing its efforts on getting a number of admission avoidance pathways up and running and provide alternatives for patients with specific conditions,” the statement said.