Harris hits back at criticism over Limerick hospital

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Health Minister Simon Harris who has committed to a new national policy on Sexual Assault Treatment Units.
Health Minister Simon Harris who has committed to a new national policy on Sexual Assault Treatment Units.

HEALTH Minister Simon Harris has hit back at claims he has no plan to deal with “outrageous” levels of patient overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

He was responding to stinging criticism from Limerick Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan about the ongoing trolley crisis as well as his concerns over the construction of a 60-bed temporary unit at UHL.

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According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), there were 479 admitted patients waiting for beds at hospitals around the country at 8am on Monday.

UHL was the most overcrowded hospital with 64 patients on trolleys with Deputy Quinlivan claiming that patient overcrowding had “engulfed” UHL this summer.

He said a record 3,323 ill patients were forced to wait on trolleys at the hospital in the first three months of the summer – the highest number anywhere in the state”.

He described an unannounced visit to UHL by Mr Harris last August as a “secret dash in and out”, but that “there hasn’t been a peep from him since about how he intends to deal with the crisis that has overwhelmed our local hospital”.

“The disregard shown by this government for patients and staff in UHL has been astonishing. This situation cannot continue.“

The Sinn Féin TD added that graduating nurses and midwives had not been offered employment in Limerick.

“A number of graduates have contacted me, concerned and upset, that they will not be able to work in the hospital where they trained and one that is close to their community,” he added.

“The recruitment ban on full-time staff is a ridiculous policy from the government and the HSE, and it is driving young nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals to emigrate.”

He also expressed concerns about the HSE awarding a contract to Western Building Systems, to construct a 60-bed unit at UHL, costing €19.5million.

A permanent 96-bed unit has also been sought by UHL management.

Western Building Systems is being sued by the Department of Education after it built a number of schools which were later found to have structural defects.

Deputy Quinlivan said he wouldn’t hold his breath for a response from Minister Harris over whether or not he had received assurances from the company that no building defects, such as those that appeared in over 40 state schools the same company have constructed, will be present in the new wing at UHL.

A spokeswoman for Minister Harris said that the Minister made an unannounced visit to UHL a number of weeks ago and spoke to patients, their families and staff about the challenges in the hospital.

“Increasing bed capacity is key to addressing overcrowding and that is why the HSE capital plan published last week commits to the 60-bed ward and the 96-bed modular unit.”

The spokeswoman said, “it would be highly inappropriate for the Minister to intervene in a contract awarded by the HSE through the public procurement system”.

“However, the HSE has assured it has appointed a technical advisor team who are supervising the contractor’s design and construction works and who ensure compliance with the contract requirements. In addition, the local HSE Estates staff, including engineers and clerk of works, will oversee and monitor the construction project.”

“The 60-bed unit comprising of four stories, with three wards of 20 en-suite single rooms, will go some way towards addressing the acknowledged lack of bed capacity in the region.

The minister’s spokeswoman stated that there is no national recruitment embargo or moratorium in place in the HSE.

With regards to offers of contracts in specific hospitals on graduation, the Minister’s position has not changed. Every graduate nurse and midwife should be offered a position in the Irish health service.

“This needs to be done in the context of the overall HSE recruitment budget,“ the spokeswoman concluded.