ELECTIVE surgery had to be cancelled this week as University Hospital Limerick struggled to cope with an “unprecedented number” of presentations at the emergency department.
The 55 people waiting on trolleys for a hospital bed and counted by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on Tuesday morning is understood to be the highest ever recorded in Dooradoyle since nurses began their TrolleyWatch campaign. It was also by far the highest number in the country on that day.
Matters had marginally improved for patients this Wednesday, when there were 24 people on trolleys in the emergency department and a further 15 on trolleys dispersed around wards.
An outbreak of the winter vomiting bug - said by the hospital to be a small number of cases - has further complicated matters in Dooradoyle this week and has resulted in ongoing visitor restrictions.
All elective surgery was cancelled on Tuesday as part of a management escalation plan and there is the possibility that non-urgent procedures might be similarly postponed later in the week.
“Amongst the factors contributing to the increase in pressure within the ED is the older age profile of patients presenting along with the complexity of issues they have. The hospital has also has a small number of cases of the norovirus [winter vomiting bug],” a spokesperson for the hospital said on Tuesday.
Among the measures taken by the group were the transfer of appropriate patients from Dooradoyle to Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s as well as the transfer of suitable cases to community settings. An assistant director of nursing from the community care services was transferred to UHL to facilitate the timely transfer of the latter group of patients.
“Staff across the group are working very hard to ensure the optimum care and safety of all our patients during this exceptionally busy period. The UL Hospital Group apologises that any patient has to be wait to be admitted,” the spokesperson said.
“Patients are reminded to keep the ED for emergencies only and to contact their GP or GP out-of-hours services in the first instance. Local injury units are open in Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday and 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday at St John’s Hospital. Patients aged five years and over with minor injuries; for example suspected broken bones in arm or lower leg, sprains, strains, minor scalds, burns or cuts are encouraged to visit their local injury units for treatment.”
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Niall Collins described the situation at the hospital this week as “extremely serious”.
“The overcrowding crisis is putting patient safety at risk and all non-urgent surgery had to be cancelled at the hospital. It is disgraceful that the situation in our hospitals continues to deteriorate despite the fact that government knew that urgent measures were needed to prevent this.
He pointed out that the 551 patients on trolleys counted by the INMO nationally on Tuesday was the fourth highest had ever recorded by the union. And one in 10 of those patients were in Limerick.
And with the opening of a new emergency department at UHL not due until next year, Sinn Fein’s Cllr Maurice Quinlivan has urged Minister for Health Leo Varadkar to get a handle on the crisis.
“It is absolutely infuriating that 55 patients were languishing on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick,” he said.
“I am aware that cases of the vomiting bug place call for additional considerations such as cancellations of elective surgery.
“However, the reason behind consistent cases of overcrowding is systemic. It has been caused by government policy and indeed the refusal of the Minister for Health to take decisive action in dealing with the crisis.
“The issue here is the complete absence of political will within the Fine Gael and Labour Party government to combat the problem.
“We need to see the minister planning appropriately to avert these crises. We need to see a recruitment campaign to bring nurses back to Ireland to address the issue of under-staffing.
“I don’t believe that this is happening at the moment and the fruits of that inaction can be seen in University Hospital Limerick this week,” said Cllr Quinlivan.