“Overwhelmed” staff at most COVID-hit hospital appeal for help as they battle surge in virus and patients on trolleys

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Photos collected by David Raleigh from a reliable source are attached... of patients on trolleys at the Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick yesterday. There are 54 patients on trolleys at UHL today, 49 in the ED, the highest number in the country. At one point yesterday according to a hospital source, there were 94 patients on trolleys in the ED between patients admitted and those awaiting a decision on admittance. Staff are “overwhelmed and demoralised” as they try to battle a surge in Covid cases as well as patients on trolleys, the source said. There are 142 confirmed Covid cases - the most in any hospital in the country. Some patients at the ED have been waiting over 100 hours for beds.

“OVERWHELMED” staff at the country’s most COVID-19 hit hospital have urged the public to adhere to public health guidelines as they try manage a surge of coronavirus cases and patient overcrowding.

Today, University Hospital Limerick (UHL) had the most confirmed cases (142) of any hospital in the country, followed by Cork University Hospital (139), Galway University Hospital (127), St Vincent’s Hospital (123), and Drogheda hospital (110).

Three critical care beds were available at UHL today. Twelve seriously ill COVID-19 patients were being treated at the 28-bed Critical Care Unit.

There were five general beds available at the Limerick hospital, according to latest figures published by the HSE.

UHL has been asked for comment on claims by informed sources that some patients in the Limerick ED were “waiting over 100 hours for a bed”.

“The last two weeks it has gone ballistic with the number of COVID patients coming in. We are down staff and there are areas of the hospital full of COVID patients,” said the source.

“We have doubled down on numbers in corridors, they are on top of one another, it’s impossible to maintain social distancing in the ED, and staff are demoralised and overwhelmed,” they added.

Almost 600 staff across the UL Hospitals Group are sidelined by the virus and while 2,400 staff across the Group’s UHL, Ennis Hospital and University Limerick Maternity Hospital have received the first of two vaccine doses, a similar number of the Group’s staff at Nenagh Hospital, St John’s Hospital, Croom Orthopeadic Hospital have not.

“Ultimately, the vaccine will be rolled out across all hospitals in UL Hospitals Group. Currently, we are prioritising staff in Intensive Care and High Dependency Units, in our emergency care and COVID admission pathways, and on our COVID-positive wards, so that we can continue managing our emergency services,” said a UL Hospitals spokesman.

“We are currently issuing as much vaccine as possible, based on availability of vaccine and clinical prioritisation. All staff will be offered the vaccine regardless of employment status or grade. This includes temporary staff, agency staff and contractors and students on clinical placements.”

“We look forward to rolling out the vaccine programme to the other sites in UL Hospitals Group at Nenagh Hospital, St John’s Hospital and Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, as soon as possible and as deliveries of the vaccine accelerate,” they added.

More than 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Limerick over the past two weeks, including 165 new cases announced by NPHET last night.

A UL Hospitals spokesman confirmed there were “a total of 574 staff across UL Hospitals Group unavailable for work due to Covid-19, the majority of staff are based at University Hospital Limerick where there were 201 nurses and heathcare attendants unavailable for work”.

“The Group has a critical surge plan in place which it can put into effect if required. UHL is the only hospital in the Group (in the mid west region) with critical care capacity,” they added.

Former metropolitan mayor, Cllr Daniel Butler, Fine Gael, said the surge in hospitalisations will bring “huge consequences”, adding, “we don’t want a situation where if you are over capacity at Intensive Care, that (doctors) are making some very difficult decisions in terms of who they are giving care to, but we are very close to that at the moment”.

“We are definitely in a serious situation but, hopefully, we can turn it around.”

Last Friday, Colette Cowan, chief executive of the UL Hospitals Group, wrote to public representatives warning “the pattern” of the virus across the region over Christmas was “one of rapid deterioration”.

Ms Cowan said the spread of the virus showed “exponential growth we had hoped never to see”.

“It will mean an increase in hospitalisations and critical care admissions in the weeks ahead.”

A Crisis Management Team and Executive Crisis Management Team continue to meet to plan and put into effect responses to the “ongoing public health emergency”.

Ms Cowan noted that, a newly opened 60-bed block at UHL was, “having a very real immediate impact in allowing us to isolate and treat Covid-19 patients”, but she also warned that while there was “a renewed sense of hope” due to the rollout of the vaccine, that it was “vital that we do not become complacent during this dangerous new phase of the pandemic”.