Calls from UHL staff member for hospital CEO to step down

UL Hospitals Group chief executive Colette Cowan

A STAFF member and political activist working at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has called for the hospital’s CEO, Professor Colette Cowan, to resign, saying that “we need people in there who are competent”.

Kenneth Stewart, a porter in the radiology department at UHL and chairman of Limerick’s Robert Byrne Sinn Féin Cumann, spoke to the Limerick Post at a protest staged at the Dooradoyle hospital this past Sunday (January 21).

Mr Stewart spoke out about several issues he believes need to be tackled with urgency by the hospital, including issues of sanitation and the spread of infection due to improper hygiene practices.

Mr Stewart said designated wards are being used to cater for surges in the emergency department, causing cancellations of planned procedures.

Working at the hospital for the last three years, Mr Stewart said that his department is short staffed and needs to be made available to patients for diagnostics 24/7.

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Opening up about the multi-occupancy Nightingale wards – which are due for closure when the new 96-bed block at UHL, currently under development, is complete – Mr Stewart said that “multiple people are sharing bathrooms”, adding that “they can’t sanitise properly, can’t wash their hands properly”.

“I’ve had patients ask me for cloths so that they could wipe their hands, or those medipad wipes that we use to clean chairs, they look for those to clean their hands because they can’t get access to a toilet to wash their hands. That’s how infections spread in there”.

The hospital porter hit out hard at hospital management, saying that UHL needs “a change of management in there. The management that are in there at the moment, I don’t think they’re fit for purpose.”

He added that staff shortages are seriously hampering existing staff’s ability to provide care.

“So many staff are afraid to talk about it. The reason I do is that we need staff on the ground to provide care for people,” Mr Stewart said.

Mr Stewart said that he believes hospital CEO Professor Colette Cowan “should step down. I would call for her to step down because the job is not being done properly in there and we need people in there who are competent at doing the job. I, for one, don’t think she’s competent in the job.”

In a week which started with a record 132 admitted patients on trolleys and in overflow wards according to Irish Nurses and Midwives (INMO) daily trolley count, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan (SF) raised the issue of overcrowding in the Dáil with the Health Minister on Tuesday night.

Deputy Quinlivan called for government intervention “in the here and now”, pointing to a figure of 21,409 people on trolleys at UHL last year.

Speaking in the Dáil on UHL, Deputy Quinlivan stated that “the capacity challenges at University Hospital Limerick have gotten worse and worse”.

“These are people who have been assessed, deemed in need of a bed, and yet no bed is available to them. 262 more people have been left on trolleys so far this January than in all of January 2023.

“While we await the delivery of 96-bed blocks that deliver only 48 additional beds, patients presenting at UHL continue to be treated on trolleys and in hospital corridors.”

In a separate debate, another Limerick TD, Deputy Willie O’Dea,said: “One in three patients on hospital trolleys in this country is attending University Hospital Limerick. That means there are more people on trolleys in Limerick than in all of the Dublin hospitals combined.

“This has given rise to conditions in the hospital that are Dickensian and inhumane from the point of view of patients and staff.”

Deputy Quinlivan was told that the 96-bed block currently under construction is expected to be complete in mid 2025.

In reply to Deputy O’Dea, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “We are very aware of the ongoing situation in Limerick in terms of the number of patients on trolleys. It is important to note that the chief executive expedited the appointment of the regional executive officer. I know first hand that she is on the ground and that things are moving better. I have spoken to her about the improved patient flow.”

“One of the things people will now see in daily reporting is fewer patients on trolleys in the emergency department and more patients up the house in the wards”.

At time of going to press yesterday (Wednesday), the INMO reported 110 admitted patients awaiting an in-hospital bed at UHL, 45 in the emergency department and 65 elsewhere.

On the same day last year, INMO reported 60 waiting on trolleys at UHL, 20 in the emergency department and 40 elsewhere.