The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is seeking an urgent meeting with management at Cork University Hospital amid concerns over significant volumes of patients waiting for beds at the hospital.
On Wednesday, 50 admitted patients were waiting for beds at CUH while 38 people were waiting for beds at the hospital’s emergency department this morning.
Liam Conway, INMO Industrial Relations Officer in Cork said the situation was of significant concern to members, particularly given the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.
“There’s huge, significant risks of an outbreak of Covid-19 in an overcrowded environment,” Mr Conway said, adding that it is was very concerning that while people are trying to enforce public health guidance, “this ongoing chronic problem” is being allowed to manifest in emergency departments.
The INMO representative said overcrowding in environments such as emergency departments is conducive to increasing the risk of contracting Covid-19 both for people who are presenting as patients and for frontline staff.
“If that’s not addressed, what we could potentially have is a disaster in terms of cluster outbreaks in emergency departments which would have serious consequences for patients and staff,” he said.
Mr Conway said he believes a multifaceted Government response is urgently required to the issue.
“Really what is required is urgent funding and a multi-departmental response to this in Cork; for homecare packages to allow people to be discharged in a timely fashion and get the care that they need at home, to keep people out of the hospital setting.
"The second piece is that there needs to be additional funding for a workforce plan and additional beds for Cork University Hospital and what is an urgent requirement for both the likes of Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital is additional step-down facilities created in Cork city for patients to be discharged from the acute medical ward settings in both services to an appropriate facility- those beds are not available in Cork and so they really need to be invested in as an urgent priority,” he said.
Mr Conway said that they have asked management to meet with them to address the concerns of members in Cork, and their next steps will depend on the response from hospital management.
“We are looking to address a number of concerns involving industrial relation matters, infection controls, but also health and safety matters,” he said.
“Based on that outcome, if we are not satisfied with that, we will be examining all possibilities in relation to it. This situation cannot be tolerated, it is completely unsafe for both staff and patients,” he added.
In a statement, Cork University Hospital said that the hospital is currently "exceptionally busy" due to an increased level of activity and admissions and that the situation is being treated as a priority by management.
"The situation is compounded due to the closure of 29 ward beds for infection control reasons.
"The increase in attendances has resulted in a large number of very ill medical patients requiring admission," it said.
The statement added: "Patient care is paramount in CUH and this situation is being treated as a priority by Hospital Management. The hospital ED remains open and any member of the public who is seriously injured will be assessed in the ED and managed appropriately.
"However, hospital management has requested that, where appropriate, the public contact their GP/South Doc/Mercy Urgent Care Centre in the first instance and explore all other options available to them prior to attending the Emergency Department if their needs are not urgent.”
The statement also noted that due to exceptional infrastructural work carried out in the Emergency Department over the past six months that there are no patients waiting on trolleys on corridors and that social distancing is being maintained in all cases.
Earlier today, Anne O'Connor, Chief Operations Officer at the HSE also pointed out that patients waiting for beds at hospitals around the country are not waiting in the same way they had done in the past.
Speaking at a HSE briefing, Ms O'Connor said that "I think we picture trolleys as people lined up on corridors on trolleys. We have however carried out quite a bit of work in some of our EDs, in CUH in Cork, as an example, where we have made individual isolation spaces for people so that they can be isolated and that we can manage infection."
Ms O' Connor said it was also worth noting that they had taken over two outpatient areas in CUH which were now being used as ED isolation areas.
"Trolleys this year are different in many areas to how they would have been perceived previously because of the work that has gone on in order to have safe Covid and non-Covid pathways," she said.