Top doctors say re-opening emergency departments won’t solve Limerick hospital overcrowding

Irish Association of Emergency Medicine President Dr Fergal Hickey.

THE re-opening of emergency departments at Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s Hospitals will not solve the problems associated with overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

That’s according to Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) President Dr Fergal Hickey who says that the solution lies in the provision of additional funding to increase the number of hospital beds.

Dr Hickey said that while the IAEM welcomed the fact that the public is no longer prepared to tolerate the unacceptable situation in emergency departments, their anger should be directed at the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure.

“The solution to overcrowding is not to re-open small emergency departments. The Government needs to be convinced of the need to increase bed capacity,” he said.

“The problem is not that we have too few emergency departments, arguably we have too many. Our problem is we have too few acute hospital beds for our population.”

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It has been estimated that up to 5,000 additional beds are needed but only 1,000 have been provided since 2020.

“Until and unless they fix that problem, then all of our emergency departments are going to be in the same boat.”

Referring to the recent public protest over problems in the emergency department at UHL, Dr Hickey said: “I’m glad people now recognise this is unacceptable, and they need to put pressure on their politicians to pass this problem up the line.

“Ultimately these are political decisions,” he added.

“There is no support whatsoever within emergency medicine for re-opening emergency departments in hospitals that lost their 24/7 emergency service because they lost them for a reason.

“Hiqa did a review of Ennis and it concluded that 24/7 emergency department services were unsafe and should not be provided. The hospital didn’t have the capability of supporting an emergency department. It didn’t have the necessary specialities.”

Ennis and other small hospitals also do not have the patient numbers required for medical staff to keep up their skills, he added.