Mid West hospital group defers scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments due to Covid-related staff shortages

by David Raleigh

COVID-19 related staff absenteeism at the UL Hospitals Group has led to the deferral of the majority of its scheduled surgery and outpatient appointments at five hospitals in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, next week.

The group’s chief executive, Colette Cowan, said the deferral would take effect from next Tuesday to Friday, at University Hospital Limerick; Ennis Hospital; Nenagh Hospital; St John’s Hospital; Croom Orthopaedic Hospital; and that services at University Maternity Hospital Limerick, where visiting restrictions were announced on Thursday, due to an outbreak of Covid-19, were not affected.

“The high levels of Covid-19 infection across our communities is having a significant impact on staffing levels and therefore it is imperative that we take the necessary precautions to ensure that time critical and emergency care can go ahead,” Ms Cowan said.

The group said that “a significant surge in Covid-19 activity across society”, has led it to “anticipate that an increase in staff absences will have a significant impact on services over the coming weeks”.

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It said there were 392 staff off work and self-isolating, “having either tested positive for Covid-19, been designated as a close contact or deemed high risk”.

“All the relevant HPSC guidance is being followed as we work to contain the virus and to protect patients and staff. Contact tracing and testing of staff and patients are continuing and we are putting into effect all the appropriate infection control measures to mitigate the risk,” it said.

“Emergency and trauma theatre continues to operate and time-critical outpatient appointments are also being accommodated both face-to-face and virtually.”

Patients impacted by the deferral of devices are to be contacted directly by the hospital in advance, and “the curtailment of services are being kept under continuous review by the UL Hospitals Group Crisis Management Team”.

A number of patient services will remain unaffected, including, Dialysis & Acute Fracture Clinic (UHL); Cancer services (oncology and haematology day ward; haematology and oncology OPD clinics; medical oncology clinics; rapid access clinics); Other outpatient clinics such as time-critical only following clinical decision, with patients being contacted in advance.

Paediatric clinics; ante-natal clinic; colposcopy clinic; diabetes in pregnancy clinic; elective c-sections and induction of labour (at UMHL)
 are also operating as normal.

Ms Cowan urged people to use local injury clinics, family doctors, out-of-hours GPs, pharmacies, as an alternative to the Emergency Department at UHL unless presenting for life-threatening emergencies.

The group said: “If you do have symptoms of Covid-19, it is important that you do not go to the Emergency Department or your GP. Ring them in advance for advice. Avoid contact with other people by self-isolating. In a medical emergency if you have severe symptoms, call 112 or 999.”

Ms Cowan offered her “regret the impact that these cancellations will have on our patients”, and that the group “will prioritise our most urgent patients for planned procedures and appointments next week and we look forward to increasing activity as soon as possible”.

“I would like to remind people of the importance of following basic public health measures in the weeks and months ahead such as social distancing, washing their hands and limiting social contacts to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” Ms Cowan said.