UHL boss goes on leave in week of record hospital overcrowding

Professor Colette Cowan, UL Hospitals Group CEO

THE CHIEF executive officer of the UL Hospitals Group, Professor Colette Cowan, has gone on leave at the end of one of the worst weeks in the history of University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in terms of overcrowding.

An acting CEO will take up her position from this coming Wednesday, with the nature of Ms Cowan’s leave being currently undefined.

This week, UHL broke all previous overcrowding records since the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) began its daily tally of those waiting on trolleys for in-hospital beds in 2006.

Now, it has been reported that an email sent to senior staff at UHL confirmed that Sonya Cotter, who has worked in the HSE’s Special Delivery Unit, will take up the position of acting CEO for the group from next Wednesday.

The email states that Professor Cowan is on a “leave period” and outlined the arrangements being put in place while she is absent.

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It is understood that the email does not detail the reason why Professor Cowan is taking leave or the duration of the leave.

An HSE spokesperson told the Limerick Post: “When a delegated official is on leave, there are always acting arrangements put in place to ensure there is authority to discharge functions and operate services at all times.”

“Further to your query, Ms Sonya Cotter, Assistant National Director of the HSE, is to be the acting CEO of ULHG from February 14th for the purpose of covering leave.”

On Wednesday this week, there were 150 admitted patients waiting on trolleys across UHL,  the highest level on record since 2006. Today (Friday), there were 124 patients on trolleys, with a hospital spokesman stating that the UHL is in maximum escalation mode.

Meanwhile, members of the Mid West Hospitals Campaign, who appeared before a Dáil committee yesterday to discuss a petition the group gathered to have the emergency departments reopened in St John’s, Ennis, and Nenagh hospitals, said they were “disappointed” that Health Minister Stephen Donnelly did not attend the committee.

Earlier this week, Minister Donnelly said there was “no standing over” the numbers recorded on trolleys at the hospital, adding that “we have invested more in University Hospital Limerick, in the time of this government, than in any other hospital”.

Asked about issues at the hospital, Mr Donnelly said more than 1,000 additional staff have been put in place since 2020 with an extra 192 beds also being rolled out.

He added: “The hospital with the second-worst discharge rate in the country is Limerick, so we need to see serious change in Limerick.”