CORK GPs are concerned that the acute medical assessment unit at Cork University Hospital may be closed and used instead as a ward to increase bed capacity.
A status black escalation was issued at CUH last week, which saw the hospital at maximum capacity and deemed unsafe to admit further patients.
Almost 180 patients were awaiting beds at times last week while ambulances were forced to wait outside for hours trying to offload patients.
Cork GP John Sheehan said colleagues are concerned at reports from within the hospital about the possibility of some units being closed and used for extra beds.
He said GPs have heard from colleagues within the hospital that this may be the plan.
“There are concerns that due to the pressure, they might close the Acute Medical Assessment Unit and put beds in there,” Dr Sheehan told The Echo.
“That would be a retrograde step because that is one of the real success stories in terms of accessing services and getting patients investigated without having to go through A&E and all of the challenges that presents.
“GPs would feel strongly that isn’t a good step for patients and patient services because every patient will then have to be sent through A&E, which is already struggling.”
The unit opened in CUH in January 2011 and is located above the hospital Emergency Department.
Open 24/7, the unit aims to provide the acute treatment and/or observation and investigation of patients where the estimated length of stay is less than 48 hours.
Acutely-ill medical patients referred to the unit are supposed to be seen by a consultant within one hour of arrival and have ready access to diagnostics such as x-rays, blood tests, scans etc.
Dr 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.
“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.”