Limerick senator says 'scapegoating another Minister for Health will not resolve' trolley crisis

Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

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Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

Limerick senator says 'scapegoating another Minister for Health will not resolve' trolley crisis

Senator Maria Byrne made the comments in response to the directors' letter

IN A RESPONSE to University Hospital Limerick’s clinical directors’ open letter on its trolley crisis, Government senator Maria Byrne has said “scapegoating another Minister for Health will not resolve the problems” in the emergency department.

The letter, first published by the Leader last week, outlined how bed shortages have led to “unacceptable” numbers of ill and elderly patients waiting for a bed.

“Scapegoating yet another Minister for Health will not resolve the problems in the ED. Ministers for Health from all parties have come and gone over the years and the net result is the same — the people of Limerick still need a properly functioning ED.”

When asked who was scapegoating who, Sen Byrne said: “What I am saying is we have had so many turnover of ministers, and nobody has been able to solve it. So it’s like Theresa May in the UK. Getting rid of her, is that going to solve the issue over there?”

The Leader asked Sen Byrne if she was saying the clinical directors were scapegoating Minister Harris.

She said: “No, I am not. What am I trying to say is that getting rid of Simon Harris isn’t going to solve the issue and putting in another minister, do you know what I mean? What I am actually saying is we have got to look at it in overall context.”

The clincal directors also called for the community, representatives and activists to support the UL Hospitals Group’s “ambitious agenda” which, they said, is “dependent on additional funding”.

In a statement issued by Fine Gael on Saturday, Sen Byrne said she wanted to address issues highlighted within the letter “in the context of the historical and repetitive failure by our health service to provide a properly functioning emergency department in UHL.

Sen Byrne also called on Minister Simon Harris to appoint an “external facilitator” to investigate the operations of the emergency department.

This idea had already been put to Minister Harris in a joint letter written by TDs Maurice Quinlivan, Niall Collins, Willie O’Dea, Jackie Cahill, Seamus Healy, Timmy Dooley and Mattie McGrath. Sen Byrne said she was unaware of this letter.

Sen Byrne added: “Realistically, what I am saying is that the whole group needs to be looked at overall to see where they are lacking in areas. The directors might point out that there isn’t enough staff in one area and there is too many in another area, so all those areas needs to be looked at.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the issue of an independent review was raised at a meeting with co-chairs of the emergency department taskforce on April 4 and that “Minister has requested the HSE to examine the proposal”.

On April 4, UHL set the new national record for overcrowding with 81 patients on trolleys. The Leader noted that the last time the overcrowding record was set was when there were 80 patients on trolleys at UHL in March 2013 when James Reilly was Minister for Health. 

“It even predates that. This didn’t just start in the last couple of years. This is going on for the last 10-15 years,” Sen Byrne replied. 

Concluding in her statement, Sen Byrne said: “While I do not claim to have all the solutions, we need prompt and meaningful change to complement, for example, the 60 module bed coming in stream in June 2020.  It is time we all come together to find a solution and I believe this can be best facilitated by an external person to co-ordinate the work of all stakeholders.”

However, it is unlikely the €19.5m 60-bed block unit will be ready by June 2020, as the construction, which has yet to commence, will take 15 months, the UL Hospitals Group said. The HSE recently approved €15m for the development of the crucial project.