MINISTER Jan O’Sullivan has described as “intolerable” the level of overcrowding at the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick and urged her colleague James Reilly to address the “crisis” as soon as possible.
Nurses working at the hospital, meanwhile, have called for an independent review of the reconfiguration of acute hospital services across the region, which has centralised the most serious cases at one site.
The intervention of the special delivery unit of the Department of Health in Dooradoyle - at the behest of Minister Reilly - has failed to provide a long-term solution to the chronic overcrowding there.
And 30 patients - again the highest number in the country - were on trolleys in the emergency department waiting to be admitted this Wednesday morning.
It follows an urgent appeal from Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation following what they described as “utter chaos” at the emergency department last Friday, with 36 patients counted on trolleys that morning.
Our picture shows eight ambulances backed up in a bay designed for four to the rear of the emergency department last Friday afternoon. Sources familiar with the paramedic service described ambulance crews having to wait for two hours before they could get trolleys back out of A&E before going on another call.
“With crews waiting, emergency calls were building up and crews were going clear and being sent to the next call and then returning back to the queue and again waiting up to two hours. Crews were not getting meals or breaks,” claimed one source.
The INMO said that two years after its nurses had mounted a picket at the hospital gates to highlight its concerns over patient safety, conditions had not improved.
“The INMO has repeatedly engaged with local management over recent weeks and months and has raised very serious concerns in respect of patient safety and the impact that working in such a chaotic environment is having on nurses,” the union said in a statement.
“The situation in Limerick is further compounded by the fact that all acutely ill patients are now being treated in the one location, with a loss of acute beds in Ennis and Nenagh. This is putting an impossible strain on this hospital as it is without the appropriate personnel, including nurses and support staff, or the appropriate physical infrastructure to deal with the level of demand for care.”
Mary Fogarty, the union’s industrial relations officer in Limerick, has now demanded an independent review of the reconfiguration of acute hospital services in the region and for the government “to prioritise the urgent, and immediate, recruitment of nurses”.
“The current situation is totally unacceptable, cannot be allowed to continue and must be addressed in the interests of patients, their safety and the overworked staff striving to provide safe care,” Ms Fogarty said.
And speaking this week, Minister O’Sullivan said she “absolutely” agreed that it was “an intolerable situation for staff and particularly for patients and their families”.
“It is one of these crises in the health service that has to be dealt with as quickly as possible,” she told Limerick’s Live 95FM.
A new emergency department at University Hospital Limerick - to replace an existing unit that senior HSE managers in the region admit is “no longer fit for purpose” - is not due to open its doors until 2016.
“I think the sooner we can get that staffed and up and running, the better,” Minister O’Sullivan commented.
On last Friday’s overcrowding in the emergency department, the HSE said it was mostly due to seasonal factors.
“Much of the increase can be attributed to flu and other seasonal illnesses common at this time of year,” a spokesman said.
“Hospital management and clinical directors are taking all immediate actions necessary to deal with the increase in demand for their services.”
The spokesman added that patients should continue to seek the advice of their GP before presenting at the emergency department.