DESPITE years of overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick and a lack of private spaces for people to die with dignity, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly this week said he “suspects’ that not enough resources have been put into the hospital.
Minister Donnelly recently dispatched a team of experts from the Health Service Executive to UHL to tackle overcrowding and patient delays after a record 126 patients were on trolleys at the Dooradoyle hospital on April 21.
The overcrowding crisis has deteriorated since 2009 when full-time emergency departments were closed in St Johns, Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals. Patients were funnelled to the emergency department at UHL as part of a Department of Health reconfiguration of services and create a “centre of excellence” at UHL.
Minister Donnelly said the unprecedented levels of overcrowding as well as a surge of attendances at local injury clinics, which replaced the regional emergency services, “makes the case that the injury units are working, and need to take on more of the load”.
“I have a suspicion that when the reconfiguration was done in St John’s and Nenagh and Ennis, that the resources required in UHL and the non-emergency department resources required in the other hospitals were not put in place.”
Mr Donnelly said there was no plan to reopen emergency departments in Ennis and Nenagh because “the clinical view on this is unambiguous – the doctors would say no”. He said Ennis Hospital and Nenagh Hospital do not have capacity required for specialist care facilities to treat emergency patients.
He said UHL was trying to cope with record level attendances at its Emergency Department, although the hospital only had eight emergency medicine consultants “when there should probably be about 16”.
He added that he has called on the HSE to fast track appointments of consultants, increase diagnostics services, and find additional staff to resource this.
Meanwhile a UHL spokesperson said he was awaiting a response from management to a query on whether or not the hospital has capacity to prioritise dying patients with single rooms rather than on a corridor or in a busy public ward.
Relatives of patients who have died in such circumstances, without these services being available at the time, said they felt let down by the health system.