Limerick hospital group closes field hospital as extra bed capacity comes on stream

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Cleaners prepare the Intermediate Care Facility at University of Limerick. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

A temporary field hospital built last June on the grounds of the University of Limerick to alleviate pressure on the overcrowded University Hospital Limerick (UHL), as the coronavirus pandemic swept the country, closed today, after the hospital decided it no longer required the facility.

Ninety-eight new beds are coming on stream at UHL between now and the end of the year, said local Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell, who welcomed today’s decision to transfer patients from the ICF within the hospital group and reassign staff to support the phased opening of a new COVID-19 fourteen-bed ward at UHL.

The 68 bed Intermediate Care facility (ICF) which was located at the UL Sports Arena, catered for a total of 188 non Covid-19 patients who would otherwise have been blocking beds within the UL Hospitals Group.

A spokeswoman at University of Limerick said “the decision to close the Intermediate Care Facility at the UL Sport Arena was made by University Hospital Limerick” and not UL.

“UHL had the scope to use the UL Sport Arena up until the end of November and they did not seek an extension on that timeline,” she said.

“Work will commence shortly on re-establishing the UL Arena for use by UL once Government COVID 19 restrictions ease in the future but it will remain closed under Level 5 restrictions.”

Five of the last remaining ICF patients were transferred for ongoing care within the UL Hospitals Group.

Seven of fourteen new beds were opened at UHL today, and the remaining seven will be “opened over the coming days” said a hospital spokesman.

The two-storey 14 single en suite room ward block was a “rapid build construction” developed as part of the Government’s national action plan for the pandemic and will treat COVID-19 patients.

The ICF was “developed as a contingency solution to the patient flow and crowding challenges experienced in the region’s hospitals during the pandemic” the spokesman went on.

Management at UHL informed local politicians of the closure in a zoom call that the ICF was unlikely to be used again, despite its success.

Nphet (the National Public Health Emegerncy Team) announced there were 83 new cases of covid-19 in the region (Limerick 37; Clare 30; Tipperary 16).

University Hospital Limerick was today the most overcrowded hospital in the country withy 56 patients on trolleys.

In response to the ICF closure, Margaret Gleeson, Chief Director of Nursing & Midwifery ULHG, said she was “immensely proud of the way all staff redeployed and embraced a new and challenging situation in a way that delivered enormous benefits for the patients we cared for”.

Yvonne Young, ICF Assistant Director of Nursing d it had been “more than a mere unit, it was something truly special—a hospital without doors, with the patient at the centre of a multidisciplinary team in which everyone had a voice, I’m hopeful that we can learn from this model of care for the benefit of all our hospitals”.

The ICF allowed for the clinical placements for 33 students.

Professor Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer of UL Hospitals Group and Vice Dean of Health Sciences at UL, who was executive lead on the ICF project, said the ICF was “a hugely positive experience for all involved, with tangible benefits for all”.

UL Hospitals Group CEO Colette Cowan said the ICF had been “a vital strategic element in our efforts to manage patient flow at this unprecedented and challenging time”.

Local Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell welcomed the decision and said there was “one COVID patient in the Intensive Care Unit” at UHL.

He explained that hospital managers told him they have “sufficient capacity” at the moment.

Deputy O’Donnell said a “60-bed block is due to open at the UHL in November”.

He said that 20 extra beds have opened at UHL “on a phased basis since August” and four more were due to open up in the next week.

“I’ve pushed for extra capacity at UHL for a long time now and I welcome the additional capacity coming on stream, and I think it makes sense to have extra capacity at UHL and not at UL.”

A 24 bed block is under construction at Croom Orthopedic Hospital, also under the ULHG umbrella, while additional 96 bed unit has been proposed at UHL.

UL Hospitals Group has been asked for a response.