A WORSENING overcrowding crisis mixed with ongoing superbug outbreaks placed pressure on University Hospital Limerick to adhere to fire safety guidelines.
That is according to back-and-forth correspondence between UL Hospitals Group’s CEO, Prof Colette Cowan and Limerick City and County Council’s chief fire officer, Michael Ryan earlier this year.
In April, which saw UHL break an overcrowding record, there were 109 bed days lost due to KPC superbug outbreaks.
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The documents, dated between March and May, were released to the public after a large number of Freedom of Information applications were submitted to the group, particularly requesting details of fire safety inspections in 2019.
This follows an inspection carried out by the assistant chief fire officer, Seamus Barrett, at the emergency department on March 26, after a complaint was received on March 20.
On March 28 and May 8, Mr Ryan warned Prof Cowan that “enforcement action” will be taken by the authority if the trolley numbers are not reduced.
Mr Ryan said that the emergency department had exceeded the fire authority’s “safe number” of 29 trolleys, and that it is “essential” that it is restricted to this number.
On May 7, Prof Cowan said that staying within the 29 trolleys will force closures or diversions outside the Mid-West region “which will affect the public, creating clinical risk and a threat to life and limb”.
She said that the cap was exceeded on 13 times in the morning in April, but was under the cap by the evening on each day.
She said that in April, there were “high levels” of bed closures due to KPC superbug outbreaks, which she said “reduced the number of beds available to the ED and the number of trolleys permitted to be placed on each ward was reduced”.
Separately last week, a damning Hiqa report stated that UHL had failed in its attempts to control the spread of the CPE superbug.
On the issue of beds capacity, Prof Cowan told the fire officer that UHL, which serves 400,000 population in the Mid-West, 451 inpatient beds, between 200 and 250 fewer than Galway, Cork and Dublin.
“Even though our demand far exceeds our capacity, staff at the University Hospital Limerick ensures patients are treated and cared for immediately to ensure a speedy recovery or onward treatment, to prevent adverse outcomes.”
Prof Cowan outlined to Mr Ryan a number of initiatives that were implemented to help with patient flow.
A spokesperson said it fully respects the role of the fire officer.
To date, 62 staff have received fire safety training and three nurses have been trained as fire marshals, with further training planned for 2020.
“Drills have taken place in ED in the event of the activation of our major emergency plan. This provides for the clearing of ED within 15 minutes and can be applied to the scenario of a fire evacuation.
It should be noted that the main corridor running through ED is always kept clear to facilitate such an evacuation.”
The Limerick Leader submitted two requests to the UL Hospitals Group for correspondence between the two organisations in October and November.
In November, Limerick City and County Council refused a Freedom of Information request on correspondence in relation to fire inspections at UHL emergency department, stating it was “legally privileged” information.