THE MINISTER for Health Simon Harris has been targeted by Limerick TDs for his “abject failure” over his handling of the trolley crisis at University Hospital Limerick.
Over the past two weeks, UHL has endured chronic levels of overcrowding, with more than 60 patients on a trolley on most days.
This follows calls by Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan for the Minister to visit the emergency department for a third time since October 2016.
This Thursday, there were 72 patients being treated on trolleys in the emergency department and on trolleys or beds in the wards.
Last month, UHL had the worst level of overcrowding in the country with 1,022 patients on trolleys. It was the only hospital in the country to have more than 900 patients on trolleys.
Deputy Maurice Quinlivan has initiated a topical issue on UHL’s overcrowding crisis in the Dail four times since July 2016. However, Minister Harris has failed to turn up on each occasion, including last Wednesday.
The Sinn Fein TD said that this was “totally unacceptable”.
Minister Harris visited the old emergency department in October 2016, followed by the official opening in June 13, 2017.
The Department of Health told this newspaper that the Minister was there when the €24m facility opened on May 25.
“The Minister was front and centre when the ribbon needed cutting on the new ED, but when the conditions are not so PR friendly, he is literally nowhere to be seen.
“I honestly can’t understand the government’s logic to keep ignoring the situation in UHL, the situation has deteriorated substantially over the past few years, and staff in UHL cannot administer the best care for patients with scores of extra patients lying on trollies throughout the hospital,” said Deputy Quinlivan. Fianna Fail Deputy Niall Collins said that Minister Harris has “failed when it comes to dealing with the scandal of patients lying on trolleys for inordinate periods of time”.
“The numbers of people, and in particular older people, spending long periods on trolleys awaiting admittance to the hospital has grown and not decreased since Minister Harris became Minister.
“His Winter Initiative has been an abject failure, and is little more than a PR stunt to put forward the pretence of activity. I have consistently raised this issue in the Dáil with the Minister over the past year, yet there seems to be no improvement at all.”
Deputy Collins added: “Minister Harris needs to accept that increasing the number of doctors and nurses working in our hospitals, increasing bed capacity on our wards and crucially improving older people’s supports are the only way to deal with the trolley crisis.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said that the Minister and the Department are “very aware of ongoing challenges in relation to overcrowding at Limerick ED”.
She confirmed that, last November, the Minister and his team met with Prof Colette Cowan, the CEO of UL Hospitals Group, to “discuss concern at the continued high numbers of patients on trolleys and long waiting times at the ED in UHL despite the notable investment at this site in 2017”.
The Minister then requested a performance improvement plan to be specifically developed for UHL “which is currently being implemented. There is some evidence that this plan is working with HSE data for the end of February showing an eight per cent decrease in patients waiting on trolleys as compared to the same period in 2017, notwithstanding a 15% in attendances in the same period, the highest of all hospitals in the country.” The Minister has ringfenced €40m for the provision of 190 additional beds to be opened nationwide, 17 of which have been introduced in a temporary short stay unit at UHL.
However, Labour Deputy Jan O’Sullivan has said that, to deal with the “intolerable situation”, the Government needs to commit to build a modular unit and “open any remaining available beds in the region. This requires political will and determination and, if a visit from the Minister would expedite that, then I would support it. However, it should be absolutely clear to him, just by looking at the figures from his Dublin office, that such action is urgent and necessary.” The Government has committed to a new 96-bed block at UHL, costing in the region of €25m.