Review to take place into possible opening of second emergency department for Mid West

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly recently visited the site of the long-awaited 96-bed block at UHL. Photo: Brendan Gleeson.

THERE has been widespread welcome after the announcement by government today that a review will be carried out to determine whether there should be another emergency department opened in the Mid West.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced today (Thursday) that he is to initiate a review into urgent and emergency care capacity in the Mid West region to determine whether a second emergency department for the almost half-million catchment area is required.

Emergency departments (EDs) are generally only found in largest hospitals, designated Model 3 or Model 4 hospitals.

The Minister confirmed that the review will consider the case for a second Mid West ED in light of a significant increase in the population in recent years and ongoing pressures at the University Hospital Limerick (UHL) ED.

Smaller EDs in the region, located at Ennis, Nenagh, and St John’s hospitals, closed 15 years ago, based on what the Minister described as very clear clinical advice.

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A statement from Minister Donnelly’s office today said that “since those clinical decisions were made, the population in the Mid West has grown considerably. The population is also older than it is in most other regions. Older populations have a greater need for urgent and emergency care.”

Commenting on the Minister’s announcement that a review will commence on urgent care capacity in the Mid West, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation assistant director of industrial relations for region, Mary Fogarty, said that “a HIQA-led review into the emergency care options in the Mid West is very welcome. We look forward to engaging with HIQA and the Minister on the terms of reference.”

Ms Fogarty said that “the issues that have dogged the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick have been well flagged by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. So far this year, 8,798 patients have been admitted to University Hospital Limerick to be treated on a trolley, chair, or in another inappropriate bed space.”

“There is huge pressure on our members working in University Hospital Limerick due to capacity issues and staffing deficits, coupled with changes in demographics in the Mid West region.

“Any review into providing additional urgent care capacity will be welcomed by the INMO and we want to have input into the drafting of the terms of reference.

“It is clear that at this point we will need a Model 3 hospital in the Mid West.”

A statement from the Friends of Ennis Hospital (FOH) campaign group, which have long called for the town’s ED to be reopened, welcomed today’s announcement, saying that “it is particularly helpful that HIQA are going to be involved in this review as they are the ones who have seen first hand the situation in UHL and the other emergency departments around the country.”

The FEH statement said that the group had previously called for a clinical review into emergency services in the Mid West following the death of Shannon teenager Aoife Johnston at the UHL ED during a time of record overcrowding.

Minister Donnelly said today that “there have been record increases in investment in UHL during the lifetime of this government. However, overcrowding at UHL’s emergency department continues with trolley numbers increasing by 39 per cent so far this year.

“This contrasts with the national trend, with the average morning trolley count falling by 11 per cent during the first four months of the year. Some hospitals continually have no patients on trolleys.”

The Minister said that while some reforms are underway at UHL, significant changes are still required in terms of how the hospital is run and how patient flow is managed.

“This was highlighted in the recent report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). HIQA noted evidence of improvements in operational efficiencies, but said greater operational grip was also needed.”

The review announced today, the Minister said, will consider the additional capacity being added, as well as which further future reforms are needed.

The terms of reference for the review will be finalised and published once the upcoming review by Mr Justice Frank Clarke (retired) into the death of Aoife Johnston has been considered, so that its findings and recommendations can be incorporated.