Limerick hospital overcrowding crisis descends into chaos

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Overcrowding has been a regular problem at UHL in recent years.

AN investigation by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has been demanded into overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick, where more than 700 patients were waiting for a bed after being admitted to the hospital over the past week.

The demands were led by Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon when he told Taoiseach Micheál Martin that the current situation at UHL was “out of control”.

And he went on to criticise the Government’s failure to tackle the overcrowding crisis as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (IMNO) reported that 113 people were on trollies in corridors and the emergency department at UHL that morning.

The INMO figures show that in the past six days from last Tuesday, at least 622 admitted patients were without a bed, and that 1,477 patients were on trolleys there so far this month.

On Wednesday, there were 111 patients on trolleys in the emergency department  and along corridors elsewhere in the hospital.

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Figures for weekends are not reported.

Consistent complaints from patients on trolleys crowded together on the hospital’s corridors include a lack of privacy and difficulty resting and sleeping in the chaotic surroundings.

The situation has forced hospital management to distribute sleep masks and ear plugs to patients on trolleys to block out lighting and noise in the busy hospital setting.

Management has acknowledged that parts of the hospital are not fit for purpose and that more bed capacity is required.

Emergency measures are routinely implemented to try to deal with high patient numbers. These  include urging the public to avoid the hospital’s consistently overcrowded emergency department unless it is absolutely necessary.

Elective activities have been deferred a number of times in recent months, because of high levels of patient numbers as well as prioritising Covid-19 patients in single bed rooms.

More than 100 new beds came on stream last year but most of them have been used for Covid-19 patients, while construction of a 96-bed unit may not start until next year at the earliest.

Addressing the Taoiseach on Tuesday, Deputy Quinlivan said that despite repeated calls, not much has been done when it comes to University Hospital Limerick.

“There has been no demonstrable reduction in the number of people waiting on trolleys. In fact, it seems to be that the numbers are getting higher,” he claimed.

“The staff and patients at UHL have been abandoned. It is not acceptable that an average of 1,500 people a month are being treated on hospital trolleys.

“It is high time for a HIQA investigation to be carried out into overcrowding at UHL and it is past time for your government to do something about it,” Mr Quinlivan told the Taoiseach.

Speaking afterwards, the Sinn Féin TD remarked: “Unfortunately, the status of Limerick’s main hospital is one that I have to raise on a weekly basis. Last month a senior surgeon at the hospital said that the frontline staff were demoralised and depleted. There is no surprise in that.”

“An acceleration of the construction of the 96-bed unit should be a priority and there is a need for the Healthcare Inspectorate to investigate the continuous overcrowding at the hospital. The current situation cannot be allowed to continue,” he declared.

“Overcrowding at UHL has become the norm under this government. They have no interest and no plan to address the crisis and the Minister for Health in particular seems either unwilling or unable to address it”.