Simon Harris relays 'concerns' about overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Frustrated: Minister for Health Simon Harris criticised management at UHL over its ongoing overcrowding problem, just 27 days after he visited the hospital on June 12 Picture: Brian Arthur

Frustrated: Minister for Health Simon Harris criticised management at UHL over its ongoing overcrowding problem, just 27 days after he visited the hospital on June 12 Picture: Brian Arthur

BOSSES at University Hospital Limerick have responded to Minister Simon Harris’ scathing criticism, saying the new €24m emergency department was not going to “spell an end to the phenomenon of trolley waits”.

And since the minister sent an e-mail to a Department of Health official outlining his concerns, monthly overcrowding at the department has increased by 36%.

The Minister for Health expressed strong dissatisfaction with UHL following reports of overcrowding at the new emergency department — just weeks after he cut the ribbon at its launch.

Internal correspondence between the minister and Department of Health officials, published in the Irish Daily Mail, show that overcrowding on one day in July was a “source of significant concern”.

The minister took issue with management after his department invested €24m into a new emergency department, which he launched on June 12. And the minister expressed his frustration just 27 days after his visit to Dooradoyle.

In an e-mail to an official on July 9, he said: “I see that UHL has worsened this afternoon rather than improved as per their expectation/undertaking. 27 on trollies [sic] on a summer day with the access to level 2 hospitals etc that they have is far too high and a source of significant concern. We have invested heavily in the new ED and additional staffing for Limerick. I would be grateful if you could convey my concerns and the need for actions/improvement.”

In July, there were 662 patients being treated on trolleys. In September, this rose to 902.

However, a major increase in patient numbers was predicted a week before the doors of the ED’s opening. On May 25, management told the press that, in line with international research, they were going to expect a 10% hike in patient admissions.

In a statement to the Limerick Leader, a spokesperson for the UL Hospitals Group said that it “regrets that any patient has to face long waits in our ED during busy periods. However, it was always acknowledged by the hospital that the new ED would not spell an end to the phenomenon of trolley waits”.

The hospital has applied a longlist of measures to ease overcrowding, including the HSE-funded 17-bed short stay facility. But a spokesperson has confirmed that this is “operating at its full occupancy rate”.

UHL currently has 400 inpatient beds, but is consistently operating at 110-115% occupancy rate. That is why the UL Hospitals Group has submitted a €25m bid to the department for the delivery of a 96-bed block unit.

“The New ED was the first phase of improving patient facilities, however a new building will not completely solve crowding when bed capacity is low. UL hospitals work continuously to improve patient flow.”

Deputy Maurice Quinlivan said that recent overcrowding “reinforces my opinion that the minister is unable to fix this escalating crisis”.