LAST Thursday night, 11 ambulances backed up outside the University Hospital Limerick in a situation one hospital worker compared to the runways at Heathrow.
This week, it emerged that a 101-year-old woman spent more than 24 hours on a trolley, waiting for a bed. Mary Fogarty of the INMO - not one prone to hyperbole - said that this particular incident was “inhumane and you wouldn’t see it in the Third World”.
A spokesperson for UHL admitted that an increase in emergency presentations had resulted in long delays for patients. Nothing new there. Yet this is a problem that rears its head time and time again - and not just at certain periods of the year when an expected ‘surge’ occurs, such as winter. Presentations for March and April at UHL this year were the highest on record, while there was a spike on the June Bank Holiday and the weeks after it. This is a year round problem that needs a year round solution.
Dr John Kennedy Chief Clinical Director of UL Hospitals Group, admitted this week that those presenting to A&E will likely face an average wait of between 12 and 24 hours. The implication was that this is common at any time of the day, week, month or year.
Clearly the former Regional - and the wider UL Hospitals Group - is in crisis when it comes to processing patients through the emergency department and into a bed. Extended trolley delays - especially for 101-year-olds - are simply unacceptable.
The hospital itself is not entirely to blame. A defunct health service, crippled by bureaucracy - which has had billions spent on it to little effect - is hampering the provision of care in our hospitals. The opening of the new A&E - likely now at the very end of 2016 at the earliest - and the provision of new accommodation should help, but are likely more than a year away.
Health minister Leo Varadkar promised to send a special squad of trouble shooters - a HSE Special Delivery Unit - to help alleviate the pressure, but UHL says it has no timeframe on the SDU’s arrival. He also vowed that there would be “zero tolerance” for a situation whereby anyone would wait longer than 24 hours on a trolley - prior to the incident in Limerick this week, involving a woman 65 years his senior.