New acute service helping cancer patients avoid Limerick hospital emergency department

Clinical Nurse Specialists Susan Nagle and Anne Ryan who are leading the National Acute Oncology Nursing Service at UHL.

PATIENTS receiving treatment for cancer who become ill at home can now avoid the overcrowded emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

A new acute oncology nursing service allows specialist nurses to assess the patient’s symptoms over a dedicated phone line and advise on the most appropriate care and management required.

A national audit of the 1,383 calls received by Acute Oncology Nurses last December showed that 84 per cent of cancer patients who contacted the service did not require emergency department attendance or admission.

Patients who required further assessment in hospital were mainly seen in the medical assessment unit or oncology day ward. Only in some instances did patients have to attend the emergency department because of the seriousness of their symptoms.

The service is available at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) during working hours for both oncology and haematology patients who become unwell due to their diagnosis or due to their treatment.

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The Limerick team, which is managed by by clinical nurse specialists Anne Ryan and Susan Nagle, has received around 2,000 calls since last May from cancer patients who become ill at home.

A room has been made available in the Haematology/Oncology Day Ward at UHL to review patients who may need further attention and identify those who require admission.

Acute Oncology Nurse Anne Ryan, UHL, said it was a huge improvement for patients to have a designated phone number and were no longer ringing around departments or leaving voicemails.

“They know now that they will get a prompt call back and a quick decision on whether they need to come in. We can get prescriptions out straightaway for painkillers. We can get patients in to the GP or we can get a community team out to them to do a set of bloods. We can also get pharmacy or home care involved.

“We can do all of these things to minimise the requirement or the length of time patients spend in hospital and in the emergency department,” Nurse Ryan  explained.

Her colleague Susan Nagle said that although many patients could be treated at home, there will always be a certain number who need to come in and get reviewed in person.

“Since November we have been able to reduce the number of patients coming through the emergency department by giving them appointments in the designated room on the Day Ward. It has been a great addition to the service.

“The patients ring us regularly. They know our voices and are reassured. The whole point is to keep people well enough at home so they don’t have to come in but also to identify those who still need to come in,” she added.

The service is currently available from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. It also links in with community services such as Community Intervention Teams, GPs and public health nurses to provide  additional support when required.