UHL has worst overcrowding in worst national overcrowding year on record

University Hospital Limerick

UNIVERSITY Hospital Limerick has been confirmed as the most overcrowded hospital in the country this year, a year which also saw the worst national overcrowding figures on record.

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMO) Trolley Watch, a staggering 21,141 admitted patients had to wait on trolleys in the emergency department (ED) or in overflow wards for bedspace in the hospital since January 1.

Hospital management has pointed out that December data at UHL “concludes a year marked by elevated ED attendances and in which the hospital was regularly at the highest point in its Escalation Plan”.

A spokesman for the hospital also revealed that, on one 24-hour period in December, “the highest ever number of patients attended UHL for emergency care in any one day” (305).

Next most overcrowded hospital in 2023 was Cork University Hospital (12,487), while University Hospital Galway had 8,914 patients waiting. The hospitals’ combined count of 21,401 is only just marginally above UHL’s 21,141 figure for the year.

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Looking back, the figures represent a 1,065 per cent increase on overcrowding numbers for 2006 (1,814) and, tellingly, a 772 per cent increase since 2009 (2,422) when EDs at Ennis, Nenagh, and St John’s hospitals were closed.

The 2023 figures represent an 84 per cent increase on last five years (with 11,437 being tallied for 2018) and a 284 per cent increase since 2013 (5,504).

Commenting on this year’s record figures, released on Tuesday (December 19), INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that “for the second year in a row we have broken overcrowding records”.

“The year is not even over and 121,526 patients have been admitted to hospital (nationally) without a bed. Over 3,450 children have been on trolleys so far this year, an increase of 24 per cent on the previous year. This is not something to celebrate and was entirely predictable.

“Instead of coming forward with plans to drastically improve the lot of our members and patients who find themselves in emergency departments, the HSE have instead decided to implement a recruitment freeze which will further demoralise a burned out, exhausted workforce. We know from past experience that it can take a long time to reverse the impact of any recruitment freeze.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said that long delays, inadequate bedspace, and unsafe staffing levels “are making it impossible for our members to provide safe care”.

In response to the year’s figures, a spokesman for UHL said that “this December to date, University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has been managing a significant increase in numbers attending the emergency department (ED)”.

“Between December 1 and this Tuesday morning, December 19, an average of 239 patients presented at the ED. These attendances have included high numbers of elderly patients, and numerous cases of respiratory and other winter illnesses, such as Covid-19, flu, RSV, and norovirus, that have further impacted on patient flow in UHL due to the isolation measures necessary to manage such infections.”

The spokesman said that the hospital wants to provide better care for patients and regrets the impact on admitted patients who have experienced long waits.

A recent analysis has shown that UHL has had 13 per cent more attendances than other Model 4 hospitals so far this year. Attendances by patients aged 75 and over are seven per cent above average for Model 4 hospitals. This as UHL’s inpatient bed capacity stands at 14 per cent below average for Model 4 hospitals.

“As stated in the September 2022 Deloitte report on patient flow in UL Hospitals Group, inpatient bed capacity shortfall is the main driver of hospital overcrowding in the Mid West, and the problem of overcrowding will continue here until there is a substantial increase in bed capacity. The Deloitte report identifies a requirement for 302 additional inpatient beds and 63 day beds in this region by 2036,” the hospital spokesman said.

“We continue to follow our Escalation Framework to reduce pressure on the ED and improve patient flow across our sites”.

According to the INMO’s figures, in just the month of November, the number of patients waiting on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick (1,962) was greater than that recorded in all of 2023 in 14 other Irish hospitals.