Minister admits emergency department shutdowns in Mid West was not handled properly

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

AN OIREACHTAS committee considering a petition to re-open St John’s, Ennis, and Nenagh hospital emergency departments (ED) has been told by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly that he believes the reconfiguration of hospital services in the Mid West region in 2009 was not done properly.

The Minister was addressing an Oireachtas petitions committee on the 15,000 signature petition put to it by the Mid West Hospital Campaign group.

Minister Donnelly told the committee he believes the resources now being put into hospital care in the Mid West should have been mobilised when the hospital EDs were closed 15 years ago.

Committee chair Martin Browne TD said that “the petitioners believe the loss of the EDs at Ennis, Nenagh, and St John’s has significantly increased pressure on the ED at UHL, which is overcrowded on a daily basis as it treats patients from across Clare, north Tipperary, and County Limerick, as well Limerick City”.

Minister Donnelly recently ordered a HIQA review of emergency care in the Mid West, inquiring into whether a second emergency department is the answer to overcrowding at UHL.

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The government was acting on expert clinical advice and concerns raised about patient safety at the time of the reconfiguring.

His recent announcement was prompted, he said, by a rise of 40 per cent in trolley figures at UHL in the first four months of this year.

He told the committee there had been considerable investment at UHL over the lifetime of this government in terms of extra medical staff and bed capacity.

The HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry, said the addition of a second emergency department in the region cannot be considered in isolation or outside a Model 3 hospital for the region.

In a statement, the Mid West Hospital Campaign said it was “very disappointed” to receive notification of the Minister and his officials’ attendance at the committee, sent via email on Tuesday evening las (May 21).

“We had to respond by Wednesday at noon and notify them who would attend as representatives from the Campaign. With such a short timeframe in which to organise, it was impossible due to work and family commitments to organise our attendance,” the group said.

“It was put to the Minister that the Frank Clarke report into the death of Aoife Johnston was due to be published on 20th of May. The Minister’s response was that it would be ready within weeks. This investigation was announced on January 2nd, 2024. It was given a timeline of eight weeks, which should have taken it up to 27 February 2024. We are now a further 12 weeks on which brings it to a total of 20 weeks.

“Today the Minister said it would be ready within a matter of weeks. He did not state how many.”

The campaign group also claimed that “the Minister referenced trolley numbers falling last year with a sudden increase this year. What he was saying did not make any sense in relation to UHL as there was no decrease at any time last year”.

“The Minister failed to answer why the HIQA report of March 2022 was not acted on by him or by the Health Committee when UHL management gave a commitment to exploring a Model 3 for the region.

“He and Colm Henry failed to give any explanation as to why the Mid West is the only region in the country with only one Model 4 and no supporting Model 3”.

The statement said that the MWHC will address the committee in full this coming week.