HSE experts to tackle Limerick hospital overcrowding crisis

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.

HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly has ordered the HSE to deploy an expert team to University Hospital Limerick (UHL) as part of an emergency plan to ease crisis levels of patient overcrowding, as 111 patients lay on trolleys in hospital corridors yesterday (Wednesday).

Minister Donnelly said he was “very concerned” about patient care at UHL as management struggled to deal with record levels of patients waiting for beds after being admitted to the hospital.

Figures published by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) showed that in the previous week, at least 649 patients were cramped together on trolleys in the emergency department and along corridors elsewhere in the hospital.

However, the figures are in reality much higher as trolley statistics are not reported during weekends, which is the busiest period for many hospitals.

“It’s chaotic, the worst I’ve ever seen it in here, and that is saying something, because I thought I had previously witnessed it at its worst. There is just no joined up thinking, no communication, no plan, not enough beds, you name it, it’s just terrible in here,” said a member of staff who did not wish to be identified.

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126 patients lay on trolleys along the corridors at UHL on Thusday, April 21, which was the highest number ever recorded in any Irish hospital.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Minister Donnelly said he was “very concerned, as was the HSE”, about the length of time patients have to wait for a bed at UHL.

He said he had directed HSE chief executive Paul Reid to implement “a plan to look at emergency departments right around the country, hospital by hospital, and see what more is needed”.

“A lot of work is going on, but there are areas where we can do more: For example, having emergency medicine consultants on site more at the weekends, later into the evenings where necessary; access over the weekends to diagnostics; making sure we are fully utilising the level 2 and level 3 hospitals that can take patents out of model 4 hospitals and that we are fully utilising the minor injury units,” said the Minister.

“I’ve been in touch with the management at UHL about all of this and I spoke with the HSE yesterday. I’ve asked them to provide an expert team to the hospital managers.

“They are in the middle of a piece of work themselves, looking at their patient pathways, but it is very important to me that the management and the clinicians at UHL get all of the support that they possibly need”.

Responding to the Minister’s comments, a UHL staff member said: “That’s all been done before, we’ve had these investigations time and time again. The Minister is calling for access to diagnostics at weekends, that just tells you where Ireland’s health service is in the 21st century,

This is despite everything that we know and have complained about for decades, not months, decades.”

Welcoming the plan, Limerick Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins said: “The Health Minister’s decision to order this review is necessary and merited.

“The number of patients on trolleys has continued to rise and is a cause of huge concern to the public. People regularly tell me of their fear of attending UHL due to the delays at the emergency department.”

Limerick Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan, said the situation at UHL as “outrageous” and that “it is high time for a HIQA investigation to be carried out into overcrowding”.

24-hour Accident and Emergency Departments in Clare and Tipperary were streamlined to Limerick, and despite investment in a new emergency department in 2017, patient overcrowding at UHL has worsened.

More than 100 new beds were opened at UHL last year but most were utilised as a Covid-19 ward.