HEALTH minister Simon Harris has committed to opening the new emergency department at University Hospital Limerick “once it is fully ready”.
It has been unclear when exactly the state of the art facility - total capital costs for which amount to €24m - would open, with work due for completion by the end of March. Yet, the HSE service plan for 2017 had indicated that it would not be fully-operational by October at the earliest and the UL Hospitals Group was unable to confirm it would be ready to open in May.
However, health minister Simon Harris has previously said it was “an absolute priority” for it to be opened in May.
The Minister was again questioned by Senator Kieran O’Donnell at Wednesday night’s Oireachtas Health Committee and asked to give a commitment that the new facility would be funded and opened in May when it is ready for operation and not deferred to October.
In reply, Mr Harris acknowledged that the opening date for the new ED was a “very important issue in Limerick” and that the existing facility was “wholly not fit for purpose".
“I understand that it would be a cause of great frustration to see a brand new ED sitting idle while people are working in extraordinarily difficult environments and patients are in very difficult environments,” he said.
“And the commitment I have given you is one I intend to honour, that we will work together to make sure we open that when it is ready – and that is something I want to work with the HSE on and I have given that commitment clear.
“I think it is quite a small gap that we need to breach here; I am committed to working with you and the with the HSE to do that. I am working to make sure that we can open the ED once it is fully ready to be open.”
Senator O’Donnell said he was “delighted to have received a public commitment from Health Minister Simon Harris that the new state of the art A&E at UHL will be funded and opened when it is ready for operation, which is scheduled for May and will not be deferred to October.
“I explained to Minister Harris that the original opening date for the new A&E was March 2017 and this had already been deferred to May 2017. Any further delays are completely unacceptable to me and to the people of Limerick and the Mid-West as well as the staff and patients who have to currently endure a not fit for purpose A&E.
“I am today informed by Management at UHL that the new A&E is scheduled to be ready for operation and opening by May,” he added.
The Senator said management had assured him that recruitment was underway for staff to work in the facility – some 90 new staff – with two of the four ED Consultants already in place, with the other two posts to be filled by April. 20 of the 30 nurses required have also been hired.
Meanwhile, amid high levels of overcrowding on a regular basis at UHL, Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan has been critical of the practice of employing emergency capacity protocols at UHL "every day in 2017".
“Through a Parliamentary Question to the Minister for Health, I have received the figure on the ‘Full Capacity Protocol’ and its usage in Limerick. This is an escalation plan for the placing of additional beds on inpatient wards and in hospital halls. We see within the figures that this protocol was used in UL Hospital some 304 times in 2016 and every single day in January 2017.
“‘Full Capacity Protocol’ (FCP) is supposed to be an emergency measure to deal with overcrowding. It is not supposed to used every day or to become the norm. It means cancelling elective procedures and aggressive discharging. It was never intended to be like this,” he said.
There are 29 patients on trolleys at UHL this Thursday, according to figures collated by the INMO, a drop from the previous day’s 38. However, despite the drop, UHL is again the most overcrowded hospital in the country today.