THE number of COVID-19 patients at University Hospital Limerick jumped from three to 12 in a nine-day period up to this Wednesday, sparking concerns about bed capacity, as well as the spread of the disease, which has claimed over 4,000 lives nationwide.
As UHL’s Covid caseload increased four-fold in a little over a week, Mary Fogarty, the Assistant Director of Industrial Relations, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), warned: “Frontline nurses report that overcrowding is getting even worse and our members say the hospital is out of control.”
Over the past two weeks 700 cases of the virus have been identified in the mid west region, mostly in Limerick, leaving it in “a precarious position”, said the Department of Public Health Mid West.
While UHL continued to firefight “record” attendances at its emergency department, resulting in the temporary cancellation of all elective and outpatient services, it emerged that at least two of the hospital’s 12 Covid patients were being treated in its Critical Care unit.
A UHL spokesman said: “Managing this continuing and steadily rising influx of emergency presentations and admissions is, to say the least, a challenge for our healthcare workers, not just in terms of numbers, but also in the context of the social distancing and other infection prevention and control measures that have been in place in our hospitals throughout the pandemic.”
“Compounding this is the acuity of our patients. Patients are presenting at ED notably sicker than they have in the past. They are also staying sicker, for longer, with much more complex conditions than has been the case at this time of the year, and requiring longer stays in hospital to recover,” he said.
The spokesman added that “over recent days, there has been an increase in over-75s attending, and also in the number of patients under-75 who require admission to UHL for a variety of conditions”.
The INMO called for “ministerial intervention” to help curb the Limerick hospital trolley crisis, as 52 UHL patients languished on corridors and wards waiting for admission to a bed. Minister Stephen Donnelly will likely face further questions from the media when he takes a tour of the Limerick COVID-19 vaccination centre, this Thursday.
The INMO said that, despite “more than 110 new beds” coming on stream last January, the scab of patient overcrowding in Limerick continues to fester.
Ms Fogarty said: “Our members are still fighting COVID and are frankly exhausted, even before the pandemic, UHL was a seriously overstretched hospital. Something has to give, Limerick nurses morale is at an all-time low.”
The nursing union called on the Minster for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to “look under the bonnet” to examine why extra resources have not tackled the hospital’s overcrowding problem, adding, “it is evident that additional bed capacity is no silver bullet”.
A UHL spokesman said the cancellation of procedures and appointments this week was directly linked to “unrelenting, high number of attendances at our Emergency Department”, and sanctioned in order to “manage risk and stabilise the (hospital) site”.
“The cancellation of elective and outpatient services at UHL, is not specifically related to COVID-19, while we have been mindful of national and international concern about the increase in the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, and its potential to lead to a surge in hospitalisations.”
In the 24-hours up to 8am this Wednesday morning there were 241 attendances at the Limerick ED, down from 265 for the same period up to 8am Tuesday which represented a “33% higher than an equivalent weekday attendance figure from two years ago”.
“As noted, we appreciate that COVID-19 continues to present a very real threat to our communities. We are hopeful that the ongoing vaccination programme will help to limit and eventually halt the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in its tracks. We urge the public of the Mid-West to continue to support our vaccination programme, and also to continue adhering to the public health guidelines that have been so effective throughout the pandemic,” the spokesman said.
“We are sorry to any person, and their families and loved ones, who is impacted by our decision to cancel elective activity at UHL for the rest of this week. These are the toughest decisions that hospital management face, but we must ensure we can provide a safe care environment to those patients who require our services most urgently, and we will work to reschedule affected patients as soon as possible, and keep the situation at UHL under review, as we look to resume scheduled services from next week.”