72 Limerick hospital doctors warn of risk to lives

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An overcrowded emergency department was a common sight at University Hospital Limerick.

A LETTER signed by 72 doctors at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) stated that patients were being put at risk by persistent overcrowding and unsafe working conditions at the hospital.

The letter, sent to hospital management and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last June, highlights several “near misses” at the hospital’s acute medical unit where doctors say patients almost died due to understaffing and a lack of medical cover.

The 72 non-consultant hospital doctors, who have made a protected disclosure detailing their grievances, say previous warnings by staff have not been acted on.

And they claimed that a previous letter written by medical registrars in 2021 sparked  an “internal witch-hunt” to identify the authors.

The most recent letter, published in part by The Irish Times this week, states that patients have to wait more than ten hours for a bed in the unit “without any medical attention” while other “lost” patients are sometimes missed and left unseen by a doctor for a number of days.

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The doctors say they have documented the issues so they can be prevented from happening again.

“We are the doctors on the ground apologising to patients when things go wrong and all we want for our patients is to be cared for in the best possible manner.”

Because of poor access to outpatient services, many patients remain on a ward for days to weeks waiting for review by a sub-speciality.

The letter highlights many of the concerns raised in a report published last June by the Health and Information Quality Authority which found the “overcrowded and understaffed” emergency department at UHL posed a significant risk to the provision of safe care.

Since then, HSE officials have been sent to the hospital to find ways of improving patient flow but overcrowding at UHL remains one of the worst in the State.

According to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) today (Tuesday), there were 70 patients on trolleys at UHL, the highest figure in any Irish hospital. This included 44 patients without beds in the emergency department and 26 elsewhere in the hospital.