A CONSULTANT at Cork University Hospital (CUH) has described conditions within the hospital as the worst he has ever seen.
A status black escalation level was issued at CUH for the first time yesterday because of chronic overcrowding which threatened patient safety.
Consultant in emergency medicine at CUH, Dr Conor Deasy, said he had never seen worse conditions at the hospital.
Patients were waiting for more 12 hours to be seen, and ambulances were queued for hours outside because they had no way of offloading patients safely.
Dr Deasy said patients were enduring “distressing” delays.
The status black escalation has led to widespread calls for urgent action within the health service.
A status black escalation, according to HSE guidelines, means the emergency department (ED) and potentially other parts of the hospital are in a “critical position and clinically unsafe”.
It also means the hospital is at maximum capacity and deemed unsafe to admit further patients.
Almost 130 patients have been awaiting beds at CUH since Monday.
That night saw up to eight ambulances lined up outside the hospital, with one waiting more than four hours to release a patient into the hospital’s care.
Dr Deasy said: “Staff are working in an extremely congested hospital and ED, and are trying their best to treat the sickest and mitigate the risks associated with long delays to emergency care.”
Dr Deasy revealed that ambulances are getting delayed due to the lack of physical space to offload patients from the ambulance trolley at the hospital emergency department.
A paramedic source also told The Echo that ambulances were waiting outside CUH for hours on Monday night trying to offload patients with no success. Some were forced to go to the Mercy Hospital instead.
“The waiting room was extremely overcrowded; inside there was very little space for doctors to see and treat patients,” added Dr Deasy.
Liam Conway, a representative for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Cork, said it is “an extremely challenging and difficult time for our members in CUH”.
Stephen McMahon — who is one of the co-founders of the Irish Patients’ Association — called on the HIQA, the Health Information and Quality Authority, to investigate the escalation and its impact on patients.
“These are major patient safety issues and HIQA should be called in to investigate these reports,” he told The Echo.
“The stark reality is that overcrowding contributes to preventable injury and in some cases deaths.”
Cork GP Dr John Sheehan explained that the ability to find beds in the community is impacting the situation at CUH.
“Having talked to some colleagues in CUH, it’s the worst they’ve seen in 10 or 15 years,” he said.
“That is unusual for this time of year, given there is no flu epidemic at the moment.
“Our ability to find step-down, long-term rehabilitation units is limited so patients aren’t being moved on when they need to and that’s creating a backlog,” he added.
“So although there is chaos in the A&E at the moment, it’s not just an A&E problem, it’s a hospital-wide problem.”
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald called on the government to take radical action to address the capacity crisis.
She said that services are at breaking point across the health system.
“We need to know what is to happen in CUH in the first instance given the escalation in the last 24 hours,” she added.
In response, Tánaiste Simon Coveney admitted that the number of patients waiting on trolleys at CUH was “exceptionally high”.
He added: “We need to, and are, putting the extra resources and the priority systems in place to respond to that in accordance with the needs of patients there.”
President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Peadar Gilligan, warned that the crisis experienced in CUH will become the norm unless action is taken.
“We are only ever hours away from a crisis such as we are experiencing in CUH,” he told The Echo.
He said the IMO has put forward solutions to the current issues but that unless action is taken, the crisis witnessed in CUH will become the norm.
A spokesperson for CUH said the ED was “experiencing severe congestion over the last 24-48 hours due to increased patient attendances”.
“Management at CUH is implementing additional measures to address the situation,” she said.
“Patient safety is the utmost priority, and all clinical staff are working to ease the current demand for care.”
The public were urged to contact their GP and explore all other options available to them prior to attending the ED if their needs were not urgent.