Hospital boss outlines plan to tackle overcrowding

UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan

MANAGEMENT at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) say they cannot use a 60-bed block opened last year to ease patient overcrowding because the single isolation beds are being used for Covid patients.

The chief executive of the UL Hospitals Group, Professor Colette Cowan, said the 60 single isolation beds will be freed up when the pandemic tails off.

The sixty beds were completed in late 2020 to ease pressure on the hospital’s emergency department which has been consistently overcrowded since it opened in 2017.

“We haven’t been able to use our 60-bed block since the pandemic, because it’s effectively a Covid unit. When it’s freed up, we’ll be able to flow more patients from the emergency department,” Ms Cowan stated during a media briefing yesterday.

All 24-hour emergency department services in the Mid West region have been streamlined to the Limerick hospital, resulting in consistent overcrowding at UHL.

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Prof Cowan said the Limerick hospital group is planning to enhance community care initiatives to reduce overcrowding at UHL, and explained that all 24-hour emergency department services are funneled in to UHL .

She said there is a plan “to set up community assessment hubs as an alternative pathways for patients so that they don’t have to come into the emergency department, especially patients with chronic disease”.

“We are not ignoring the fact that our emergency department is busy.  We have a lot of significant initiatives underway to ensure that patients get through to a bed as quick as possibly, and that they are treated immediately when they come in,” she added.

The group has increased bed capacity by 122 during the pandemic and  a new 96-bed block will help cope with demand as well as replacing  old “nightingale” wards that are not fit for purpose.

“The 96-bed block is out to tender at the moment and the tenders will be reviewed in early February.  We have 199 beds in our nightingale wards across the hospital group and it’s very evident to us over the years, and even more so since the pandemic, that they are a risk for outbreaks.

“Our plan is to eliminate the nightingale wards and provide us with isolation facilities,” she added.