AS Limerick nurses prepare for industrial action in protest over hospital overcrowding, a Government TD has described the current crisis at University Hospital Limerick as “unacceptable”.
While Deputy Kieran O’Donnell declined to directly criticise his constituency and Fine Gael colleague, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, he pointedly referred to this week’s figures showing the government had collected more than €1.2 billion in extra taxes last year and declared it was “the job of government to redistribute surplus revenues where they are most needed”.
Deputy O’Donnell was speaking as the number of patients waiting for a bed in UHL reached the 40 mark for a second successive day. The INMO - which along with Siptu Nursing is balloting members for industrial action this week - this Wednesday counted 28 patients on trolleys in the emergency department in Dooradoyle and a further dozen patients on trolleys crammed into wards.
“I have been in contact with Minister Leo Varadkar and his officials as lately as this morning. It is very simple. It is unacceptable that additional resources are not being put into Limerick as a priority. The issue in Limerick is not an issue of delayed discharges as it is elsewhere. The issue in Limerick is a capacity issue,” Deputy O’Donnell declared.
He said the problems were a legacy of the reconfiguration of acute hospitals in Limerick and the region.
“At the moment we are building a new A&E in Limerick which when completed will have 35 beds. That is to replace the 17 in Limerick and the six each that have been closed in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s - a total of 18 - as a result of reconfiguration. But at the moment UHL has only 17 bed units and there has been no increase in capacity
“The cabinet is meeting tomorrow [Thursday]and overcrowding in our hospitals has to be up for discussion. We are more than €1.2 billion ahead of our revenue target for 2014 and one of the purposes of government is to redistribute revenue surpluses where they are needed,” Deputy O’Donnell said.
With the new emergency department at UHL not due to open until early 2016, “interim measures must be found” and fast if the opening of the new unit itself cannot be fast-tracked, said Deputy O’Donnell.
“Things have now reached such a crisis that those interim solutions must be forthcoming and extra resources must be allocated - both in terms of bed capacity and staffing. The new emergency department recognised the need for 35 beds and now the region has to make do with less than half of that. It is totally unacceptable to expect Limerick to see through the next two winters in that situation,” said Deputy O’Donnell.
Meanwhile, a care assistant at the hospital described the situation this Wednesday as unsafe:
“A&E is absolutely full so there’s extra beds being put on the wards. There’s trolleys full of people on wards, burying people with cardiac problems and breathing problems and there’s no apparatus there for them if they got into trouble.”
“The nurses are really overworked in there. It falls back on everybody, not just the nursing staff but they are the real lifesavers and legally they’re accountable for everything.”
In a statement issued this Wednesday, the newly appointed CEO of the UL Hospitals Group Colette Cowan apologised to patients facing long delays for a bed.
“University Hospital Limerick continues to experience a high number of emergency presentations at the emergency department. Whilst wait times for some patients at times has reduced, the ED continues to be very busy,” Ms Cowan said. “Amongst the key factors contributing to the increase in pressure within the ED is the older age profile of patients presenting and the complexity of issues they have. As a result, we are experiencing delays in discharging these patients home or to other appropriate settings. We have worked with our community colleagues over the last week who have identified capacity and supported our patient discharges to elderly care units or nursing homes.
“As part of our escalation plan to address the expected increase, UL Hospitals has opened additional beds across the group and patients who have finished their care are being discharged home or to the community. Where possible patients are being transferred from UHL to Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s for ongoing treatment and elective non-emergency surgery has been deferred.
“Our staff are working very hard to ensure the optimum care and safety of all our patients during this exceptionally busy period. UL Hospitals apologises that any patient has to be wait to be admitted,” Ms Cowan stated, again urging patients not to come to the ED if they can be treated by their GP or in local injury clinics in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s.
Additional reporting by Hannah Wiseman