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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly

Donnelly refutes cover-up claim ahead of his UHL visit

HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly has refuted claims that a “clean up operation” was carried out in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to present a better picture for him before his hospital visit last week, writes Dan Danaher.

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, February 17, Sinn Féin Senator Paul Garvan highlighted a “shocking” issue at UHL concerning the minister’s visit to the hospital.

“I had people reach out to me from the hospital yesterday to tell me what was happening ahead of his visit. Trolleys have been moved out to other wards in the hospital, as well as to step-down hospitals.

“One person told me that there were more private ambulances there yesterday than they had seen in a long time. They were to get patients out, ahead of the visit.

“Unfortunately for hospital management, and in fairness to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, he called in unexpectedly yesterday (Wednesday) evening.

“The response to that was to hide patients in the outpatients department. I got this information from a source who I trust 100%.”

The Limerick Senator said overcrowding figures from UHL were “shocking” beyond any other hospital in the country.

“For years I have been pointing out the fundamental failures of management, not to mention a culture of bullying.

“To date in February, 964 people have been on trolleys. That compares to last year’s figure of 494. This is twice as bad. Each of those persons has a story, each of those persons has gone through an ordeal and each of those persons have been failed by this Government, which has failed to tackle the crisis in University Hospital Limerick. The people of Limerick are absolutely sick of it.

“What kind of culture tells management to hide patients when a Minister is visiting? Are we really going to accept that? Is anyone in this chamber going to accept that? This has gone on for far too long already.”

“The management conceded to me that even when the new ward comes online in two years, they will still be 200 beds short.

“There are fundamental planning failures that have to be addressed, but I have to say I have never seen such a cynical attempt to cover up the crisis.

“Surely to God the first thing that management should do is acknowledge there is a crisis and try to work with the minister to solve matters.”

Calling for urgent action, he said fundamental change is needed to address issues at UHL.

“There must be no more hiding of patients, no more covering up of problems, no more fleets of private ambulances outside our hospital to try to hide what is happening. We need action and we need delivery from this government.”

Tipperary Senator Garret Ahern said he had no reason to disbelieve the comments made by Senator Garvan. “From all the reports I have ever heard from management in that hospital, it is believable that this happened.

“In fairness to the Minister for Health, the Senator would not have found out that information if he had not come down himself without telling them.

“We had a meeting with him yesterday in which he said he was arriving this morning to meet them so he obviously kept what he was doing quiet and that has triggered them trying to hide patients, which is an utter disgrace.”

Minister Donnelly was asked by reporters on Thursday if there was a “clean-up operation” carried out in UHL to make things look better prior to his arrival.

The Wicklow Deputy stressed UHL got “eight or nine minutes” notice he was coming before his arrival on Wednesday, February 16 and stated he understood a Sinn Féin representative had made a “false” allegation.

“A false allegation has been made about Wednesday night. It is a very unfair allegation. I met the nurses, emergency registrars and hospital porters on Wednesday night.

“They are under so much pressure, they didn’t have time to put patients in other places. I spoke to a lot of people. There were a lot of patients who were admitted who didn’t have a bed, were on trolley, which they shouldn’t be. They (patients) don’t want to be there and it is not fair on the people working there either. Given there was eight or nine minutes’ notice of me coming to the hospital, there was nobody doing any such thing.”

The minister was asked if he was aware about an alleged “clean-up” operation on Wednesday morning. Minister Donnelly stressed this didn’t happen on Tuesday night and saw no evidence of this on Wednesday morning.

“There were plenty of men and women on trolleys in the corridors. I met some of the doctors who were coming into work on Tuesday night were getting ready to leave on Wednesday morning.

“We spoke about what they had dealt with through the night. I got a very clear picture of the extraordinary healthcare professionals we have, they are unbelievable and the unacceptable pressure they are under.

“That is not to blame anyone from hospital management right through they are all doing their best. We need more nurses, doctors and allied health professionals. We need more beds. I would like to see the diagnostic suites opened for longer. There are more innovations being put in place, there is now MRI available on Saturdays.”

He pledged to allocate more funding for staff, beds and healthcare equipment.

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