HSE boss sees no quick fix to Limerick hospital overcrowding

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HSE chief executive Paul Reid

THERE will be no quick-fix solution to the bed-capacity and patient overcrowding crisis at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), the head of the country’s health service has warned.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid has forecast another harsh winter at the Limerick hospital, with combined waves of flu and Covid-19 likely in the coming months.

Mr Reid revealed that the HSE is renting 55 private hospital beds in Limerick every week, to mitigate against “capacity issues” in the public system, particularly due to the ongoing Covid pandemic.

He said that, despite sending an expert HSE team to find solutions at UHL, “we’re in for a very challenging winter both in Limerick but also at a national level. We are going to be dealing with the impacts of Covid for a sustained period of time”.

The capacity and overcrowding crisis at UHL dates back to a government decision 15 years ago to funnel 24-hour Emergency Department services from Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s Hospitals into UHL.

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Mr Reid said this strategy, implemented before his time with the HSE, followed best international practice in order to “strengthening capacity in emergency departments in Model 4 hospitals, including UHL.

However he acknowledged there was a ongoing need for additional beds and staff at the Limerick hospital.

Over the past 12 months, more than 100 beds were opened at UHL. However most of these, including a newly constructed 60 bed block, were prioritised for Covid patients.

Mr Reid warned the hospital is still under considerable pressure from the “delayed impacts of Covid, where UHL has 64 patients with Covid and five patients in the Intensive Care Unit.

“The reality is that we’re now looking like Covid will have various seasonal impacts, and nobody would have predicted that we would be seeing an impact in the middle of summer.

“Staff at UHL, particularly in the pediatrics units, are seeing a lot of respiratory illnesses now that we wouldn’t have seen traditionally until October and November.”

Mr Reid said that 140,000 diagnostic reports were accessed by GPs nationally last year, 14,000 of them in Limerick.

He said the HSE was formulating a three to six month plan to mitigate pressures on UHL, by improving patient discharges into community settings, and providing GPs with further access to diagnostics.

A campaign to reopen the former 24-hour emergency departments in Clare and Tipperary has gathered steam. However, despite acknowledging “an unacceptable environment for some patients in UHL, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said there are no plans to reopen emergency departments in Nenagh and Ennis on a full-time basis.

Mr Reid told the ‘Limerick Today’ programme on Live 95 that he has complete confidence in UHL management and senior clinician staff, who he said had come in for “undue criticism that was personalised actually, sometimes”.

“I don’t think it’s right, we have a very dedicated team at UHL,” Mr Reid said.