Minister commits to increase capacity at Limerick Hospital

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

A RENEWED commitment from Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will alleviate pressure on the emergency department and increase capacity at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

That’s according to Limerick Senator Maria Byrne who was speaking following the submission of a motion by Fine Gael Senators from the Mid-West region regarding capacity issues at UHL on Wednesday.

The motion called on Minister Donnelly to extend the protocols allowing National Ambulance service personnel to transport patients to the the Medical Assessment Unit in Ennis Hospital to also include St John’s and Nenagh Hospitals.

It also asked the Minister to fast-track the proposed second and third 96 bed blocks at UHL and to revisit the decision not to provide an elective only hospital in the Mid-West region.

The motion went on to call on Minister Donnelly to accelerate the start date of the new surgical hub proposed for Limerick City and to explore the possibility of relocating the Shannon Doc out-of-hours service to the UHL campus to help assist non-referral presentations at the emergency department.

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In his response, Minister Donnelly said that the National Ambulance Service protocols currently operating at Ennis Hospital will be extended to Nenagh Hospital in the coming weeks and will be rolled out shortly thereafter to St John’s Hospital.

“Consideration will be given to future capacity, including two 96-bed blocks. The core message is that we will continue to invest in UHL and in the hospital group. We will continue to invest in the workforce and in beds. We are putting a surgical hub and much more capacity in place.

“The other part of this is that we need changes to working practices, to patient flow through the hospitals and to integrated care pathways between the hospital and the community. Many of those changes are also required. We have seen the team in UHL respond in recent weeks and drive down the number of patients on trolleys.

“There were eight patients on trolleys in UHL this morning. In the past week, the average has been about six. The team has responded well and we need to acknowledge that,” Minister Donnelly added.

Responding to the Minister’s comments, Senator Byrne said that the Senate motion had provided much needed reassurance and signals significant progress for UHL.

“It means that the National Ambulance service can now transport patients who meet agreed clinical criteria to a Medical Assessment Unit, rather than bringing them to an emergency department.

“This is not only  fundamental in controlling and maintaining capacity at UHL, but is also a key measure that will ease severe and consistent overcrowding at acute hospitals.

“Older people are likely fall under the medical criteria so this will help care for our most vulnerable,” Senator Byrne explained.

“This bid to holistically reform our health service and ensure better access for patients applies to hospitals that need it the most.

“My Fine Gael colleagues, Senators Martin Conway and Garret Ahearn share my sense of urgency when it comes to responsive emergency care, particularly the commitment to tackle long waiting lists.

“Last October, a new 96-bed inpatient block project sparked a wave of progress which we will continue to deliver in 2023.

“Minister Donnelly has also committed to delivering an additional 96-bed block which will further help ease the burden.

“This change will release ambulances from hospitals and allow for an overall quicker response throughout the Mid-West,” Senator Byrne concluded.