ALMOST 200 cardiac patients have had life-saving interventions in the first year of operations of the new coronary care unit at University Hospital Limerick.
The unit is part of the €35 million critical care block which will be opened officially this Friday by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.
Limerick’s long-awaited new emergency department is expected on the ground floor of the six-storey block towards the end of next year.
In the meantime, work will continue in the intensive care, high dependency and coronary care units that have been treating patients for the past 12 months.
UL Hospitals Group CEO Prof Colette Cowan told a public meeting of the board that one of the great successes of that period had been the 184 cardiac patients who have had a specific life-saving intervention for what are termed STEMI heart attacks.
A STEMI is a particularly severe heart attack involving a total blockage of the coronary artery and requires an urgent angiogram and lifesaving surgical intervention. This procedure was not available around-the-clock in Limerick until the opening of the critical care unit.
Chairman of the board Prof Niall O’Higgins said these were “184 patients, all with emergency conditions who, without this facility and were it not for this intervention, may have succumbed”.
“And I believe,” added Prof O’Higgins, “that the mortality in these units is as good as anywhere”.
While the two ministers will be doing the honours at an official opening ceremony at the new unit this Friday, the critical care block is not yet operating at full capacity. Prof Cowan said that only 8 of the 12 intensive care beds are open and 8 of the 16 planned high dependency beds.
Opposition politicians have criticised that the system does not currently have as many intensive care beds as before reconfiguration, when ICU beds were still being used in Ennis and Nenagh.
Meanwhile, Prof Cowan told another board member, University of Limerick president Don Barry that one of the reasons for the delay in opening the new emergency department was concerns over any potential disruption in electricity supply to patients in the ICU upstairs.
Enabling works around power supply would be “long and tedious”, Prof Cowan warned but she expected the new emergency department to open in the final quarter of 2016.
But solving the problems in Limerick’s emergency department were about much more than bricks and mortar, Prof Cowan said.
“We have to look at process across the whole hospital. Over the years people have tended to focus on the ED but it is actually much broader than that. How do we get them moving through the system quicker? What are the pathways for them? And one of the big areas we have looked at is frail elderly. Unfortunately a lot of the patients we have coming into ED are older people who need to come into hospital and get treated and the longer they wait they longer they have to stay.”
Improved co-operation between acute and community services had seen 40 patients in UHL moved into nursing homes under Fair deal packages in the last three weeks.