Minister orders HSE to deploy 'expert team' to Limerick hospital to tackle trolley crisis

111 admitted patients languished on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick on Wednesday
Minister orders HSE to deploy 'expert team' to Limerick hospital to tackle trolley crisis

David Raleigh

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has ordered the HSE to deploy an “expert team” to University Hospital Limerick as part of an emergency plan to ease crisis levels of overcrowding at the hospital.

111 admitted patients languished on trolleys there on Wednesday, as Mr Donnelly said he was “very concerned” about patient care as the hospital tries to mitigate against record numbers of patients waiting on beds.

Figures published by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) showed that in the past week alone, at least 649 patients were cramped together on trolleys on corridors along the hospital’s Emergency Department and wards.

However, the figures are in reality higher as trolley statistics are not reported during weekends, the busiest period for many hospitals.

A record 126 patients were on trolleys on corridors at UHL last Thursday, April 21st.

“It’s chaotic, the worst I’ve ever seen it in here, and that is saying something, because I thought I had previously witnessed it at its worst,” said a member of staff who did not wish to be identified.

Speaking to reporters this Wednesday, Mr Donnelly said he was “very concerned, as is the HSE, about the length of time patients are having to wait.”

I have asked Paul Reid to make sure that a specialist team can go in to make sure that the local teams have everything that they need

He said he had directed HSE chief executive Paul Reid to implement “a plan to look at Emergency Departments right around the country, hospital by hospital, and see what more is needed”.

“A lot of work is going on, but I do believe there are areas where we can do more: for example, having emergency medicine consultants on site more at the weekends, later into the evenings where necessary; access over the weekends to diagnostics; making sure we are fully utilising the level 2 and level 3 hospitals that can take patents out (of model 4 hospitals), that we are fully utilising the minor injury units,” said the Minister.

“I’ve been in touch with the management in University Hospital Limerick about all of this and I spoke with the HSE yesterday and I’ve asked them to provide an expert team to the hospital managers.

“There is a lot of work already going on in the hospital and they are in the middle of a piece of work themselves, looking at their patient pathways, but it is very important to me that the management and the clinicians at University Hospital Limerick get all of the support that they possibly need, so I have asked Paul Reid to make sure that a specialist team can go in to make sure that the local teams have everything that they need.”

Fearful patients

Welcoming the plan, Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said: “The Health Minister's decision to order this review is necessary and merited. The number of patients on trolleys has continued to rise and is a cause of huge concern to the public. People regularly tell me of their fear of attending UHL due to the delays at the emergency department.”

Limerick Sinn Féin TD, Maurice Quinlivan, said the situation at UHL was “outrageous” and that “it is high time for a HIQA investigation to be carried out into overcrowding”.

Previously operating 24-hour Accident and Emergency Departments in Clare and Tipperary were streamlined to Limerick, and despite a government investment in a new state-of-the-art ED at UHL in 2017, patient overcrowding at UHL has worsened.

When asked for comment, a UHL spokesman said: “UL Hospitals Group apologises to all patients who are currently facing lengthy waits for a bed at University Hospital Limerick. This is not the care we wish to provide for our patients and we would like to assure patients and their loved ones that management and staff are making every effort to minimise wait times for admitted patients.”

He said the hospital was “under severe pressure” as a result of record levels of attendances and that “the numbers waiting for a bed remain far too high, resulting in poor patient experiences”.

He urged anyone who is not in need of emergency care to avoid the Limerick ED, as emergency patients were being prioritised, and to seek out alternative care options including “family GPs, injury units, and pharmacies”.

The hospital is reviewing elective activity on a “daily basis” and it has “in recent days raised our level of escalation to include reductions in scheduled care”, he said.

“We need to balance emergency presentations with the needs of these time-critical elective patients and the current challenge at UHL only underlines the importance of providing an elective-only hospital in the midwest.”

There were 47 Covid-19 positive patents being treated at UHL on Wednesday, the highest figure nationally.

“We acknowledge the tremendous work being done by all of our staff at UL Hospitals Group to meet current service demands and to keep patients safe,” said the spokesman.

Over 100 new beds were opened at UHL last year, however, most were utilised as a Covid-19 ward. The hospital is awaiting the construction of a proposed additional 98-bed unit on its grounds.

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