FAMILY doctors have condemned as “ludicrous” an appeal from the HSE not to send patients to the acute medical assessment unit (AMAU) at University Hospital Limerick.
A notice was circulated to GPs last Wednesday that the unit was being given over to accommodate a “surge” in patients being admitted through the emergency department.
The AMAU was closed to GP referrals from Wednesday to Friday last but reopened yesterday.
The unit was opened in July 2009 as part of the reorganisation of acute hospital services in the Mid-West and expanded last year. All the while, Limerick GPs were being urged by the HSE to refer medical patients to the AMAU rather than automatically sending them to A&E.
That family doctors had been advised not to refer patients there last Wednesday had “put seriously ill people and GPs in the region under extreme pressure”, according to Dr Ray Walley, chairman of the GP committee of the Irish Medical Organisation.
“This shows the true state of the Irish health service as we enter 2014,” stated Dr Walley.
“It shows a broken system that has no room for seriously ill people who need it. It beggars belief that the government is cutting more services at a time when hospitals cannot treat people who have been referred there by their GP”.
Dr Walley added that the move has also put huge pressure on neighbouring hospitals and resulted in even longer waiting times for patients when they present at these hospitals.
“This is a ludicrous situation where seriously ill patients are being forced onto A&E trolleys instead of being treated in the acute medical assessment unit and is completely unsustainable,” he said.
The note from the HSE to local GPs last week advised of a “surge in presentations” at the emergency department since Christmas that ranged from minor injuries “to more serious medical complaints, chest and abdominal pain, shortage of breath and sepsis”.
“Demands for beds has been such that we have been forced to utilise the acute medical assessment unit (14 beds) to cope with patients being admitted via the emergency department,” the circular advised before going on to apologise to the family doctors.
The AMAU was provided at Dooradoyle to assess and diagnose people with medical complaints - who may or may not be admitted or referred on.
While the HSE has previously pointed to the development of the AMAU as a means of alleviating pressure on A&E, it also said the unit is not meant to replace the emergency department.
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation counted 17 patients on trolleys in the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick yesterday morning and another 20 on trolleys on wards around the hospital. This was the second highest combined total in the country.