CHAOTIC overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick, which is tackling one of the worst flu and vomiting outbreaks in the country, has sparked outrage amongst the public and local politicians this week.
This Wednesday, UHL peaked national overcrowding records for a third time in two months, with 66 patients being treated on trolleys and additional beds. And this Thursday, there was still 60 people on trolleys in the hospital.
According to new union figures, UHL was the worst hospital for overcrowding in Ireland in 2016, with 8,090 patients treated on trolleys — at least 1,900 more patients than any other hospital.
Since Tuesday, thousands of people across the country have shared a video of 16-ambulance “pile-up” outside the A&E, which has prompted widespread criticism from the public.
Following this, Cllr Cian Prendiville has called on the Government to “declare a national emergency” for all A&E services.
Compounding the problem, frontline staff are trying to combat a month-long outbreak of the flu virus and an upsurge in the winter vomiting bug. And it is reported that a number of pharmacies across the city and county are running out of much-needed medicine for people affected, as a result.
According to new figures by the HSE and the UL Hospitals Group, since the outbreak began on December 1, there have been 123 confirmed cases of the flu in Limerick; 57 in community settings and 66 at UHL.
The outbreak has been more viral than this time in 2015, when there were just two confirmed cases in the community; nursing homes, clinics, and HSE services.
According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, this season has seen “an upsurge year” for the winter vomiting bug. There were 17 confirmed cases in Limerick since December 1. This time last year, there had been just three cases in Limerick, Tipperary and Clare. And the HSE says that the outbreak is going to get worse this month, and is urging all those at-risk to avail of the flu vaccine as soon as they can.
In relation to this Wednesday’s overcrowding, a spokesperson for the UL Hospitals Group said that the Christmas period has been “exceptionally busy”, adding that it “regrets that any patient has to wait to be seen”.
As well as hundreds of people criticising the A&E overcrowding on social media, Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan has started a petition to get 1,000 people to call on Minister for Health Simon Harris to “commit to resources” to open the new A&E. At the time of going to print, 835 people signed the petition.
It said that a “full capacity protocol” has been initiated, with the creation of 17 beds and a number of other measures at UHL to deal with the overcrowding. At 4pm on Wednesday, 25 patients were waiting for a hospital bed, a reduction of 30 people since 8am.
It stated that all infection control measures are in place to deal with the winter vomiting bug and the seasonal flu, including strict visiting restrictions.
And though the number of people with influenza-like illnesses (ILI) are expected to increase in January, Dr Jason McMahon, Treaty Medical Centre, said a large number of “at-risk” patients — pregnant women, elderly, and people who are chronically ill — are not taking the flu vaccine to prevent the illness.
On Tuesday, up to 20 patients showed ILI symptoms. At UHL, 10 patients were confirmed with the flu on Wednesday. Dr Breda Corcoran, HSE national immunisation officer, told the Leader that taking the flu vaccine “is a lifesaver”.