CONCERN is growing over the lack of a definitive date for the opening of the new Emergency Department (ED) at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
UL Hospitals’ Group chief executive officer Colette Cowan told a recent HSE West Forum meeting that she hoped the new ED would open at the end of May, subject to funding and the recruitment of new nurses.
Ms Cowan stated that about 20 of the 30 nurses required for the new ED have already been hired and the group confirmed this week that a few more have been employed since that meeting.
However, Councillor Tom McNamara has expressed concern about the lack of a definite date for the opening of the new department.
Councillor McNamara has called for an initiative to incentivise the retention of nurses in acute hospitals, such as providing free training to those studying nursing provided they stay for five years in the public system after they graduate.
The Fianna Fáil councillor said every effort should be made to retain more nurses in hospitals such as UHL and reduce the numbers leaving the hospital on a regular basis. He cited the case of one nurse at UHL, who got a break at 1pm and did not get another one until she finished work at 9.10pm that evening.
He warned that nurses on the wards are burning out because too many trauma patients are being placed on corridors and units to try and relieve the pressure in the ED.
Last year, he recalled that a woman with a suspected cardiac issue spent more than a week in a ward before she received the required tests.
“Diagnostic equipment and tests should be made available for much longer periods. Doctors will not discharge a patient unless they know what exactly is wrong with them,” he said.
“I don’t want to be negative but I doubt the new ED will be fully operational by the end of May. Forum members highlighted the need to hire extra nurses for the new ED years ago. This was the time to start hiring nurses for the new unit.
“I thought funding should not be an issue considering the overcrowding at UHL,” he said.
Councillor Ann Norton said the time to start recruiting nurses for the new ED was 18 months ago. Despite a major HSE recruitment drive last Christmas, Councillor Norton said a lot of overseas Irish nurses, who came home for the festive season, did not stay to work in public hospitals.
The independent councillor said the HSE has to start putting in place measures to retain more nurses, such as the provision of more permanent contracts, as some nurses working for years still do not have one.
A HSE spokesman said, “UL Hospitals welcomes the inclusion of funding for the opening of its new state-of-the-art ED at UHL in the 2017 HSE National Service Plan and continues to advance plans through ongoing recruitment of staff and commissioning of equipment to enable the new ED to open on May 29, 2017.
“UL Hospitals continues to actively recruit for the new ED in University Hospital Limerick. Interviews are ongoing across all disciplines and panels are being formed for successful nursing and support candidates. Reference checks and garda vetting is currently underway.
“It is planned to open the ED on May 29, 2017, subject to recruitment and funding,” said the HSE spokesman.