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Dr Michael Harty, who has apologised for attending the controversial Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Clifden. Photograph by John Kelly

Dr Harty warns Covid-19 restrictions will increase overcrowding at UHL

OVERCROWDING in University Hospital Limerick now seems inevitable due to new Covid-19 restrictions, a local doctor has warned.

The number of patients on trolleys in UHL reached 54 on Thursday, July 2 and Monday, July 6 which was the highest figure for any hospital in the country, according to figures produced by the INMO trolley watch.

While the number of patients without beds dropped slightly to 48 on Tuesday, July 7 this was more than double the next highest hospital University College Hospital, Cork, which had 20 and contrasted sharply with Nenagh, Ennis and University Hospital Galway, which had no patients on trolleys.

Dr Michael Harty pointed out that while UHL operated at 110% capacity in previous years he could now only run at 80% due to new Covid-19 measures such as social distancing and infection control.

“Trolleys will be inevitable. Unless new models of practice are used, we will be back to levels experienced last winter before this year’s winter starts,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan  has called on the newly appointed Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly to treat the matter of hospital overcrowding as an urgent priority.

“The Minister needs to engage with the hospital stakeholders at a regional and national level and deliver for our patients. We hope that the new Minister is up for the challenge.“

“Sinn Féin have a plan for our health service and I would like to invite the new Minister for Health to meet with myself in Limerick to discuss the changes needed that will allow patients to be treated with the dignity they deserve.”

“It’s disgraceful that this situation continues month on month, year on year. Our doctors and nurses have been doing an incredible job, particularly during these challenging times. They, and their patients, deserve better than to be working in such overcrowded conditions,” he said.

The UL Hospitals’ Group stated at 8am on Thursday, July 2nd there were 28 admitted patients waiting for a bed in the ED and by 8pm this number had reduced to seven patients.

“There were no patients on trolleys on the general wards on Thursday July 2nd or on any day since the pandemic began. However, there have been admitted patients waiting for a bed in areas designated as surge capacity and in our assessment units.

“In the year-to-date our average length of stay and our readmission rates for both medical and surgical patients have remained below the national average and within target. This should provide some reassurance that we are using our available bed stock efficiently and that patients receive high standards of care.

“In relation to quality of care, the annual audits of hospital mortality published by the National Office of Clinical Audit demonstrate that University Hospital Limerick continues to provide safe, quality services for its patients in spite of the challenges it faces,” he said.

The most recent National Healthcare Quality Reporting System Annual Report 2019 published by the Department of Health also indicates high standards of care in UHL as reflected in patient outcomes. We must be cautious about making comparisons between hospitals because of variety in casemix and services offered in different sites.

The spokesman outlined recent national healthcare quality data concerning acute hospitals shows the UL Hospitals’ Group does better than the national and OECD averages in terms of hospital mortality rates for heart attack and ischaemic stroke.

At the outset of the pandemic, the group established new care pathways to separate suspected and confirmed covid-19 patients from non-covid patients.

For many weeks now, patients presenting at ED have been streamed accordingly, with query and confirmed Covid-19 patients being assessed and treated in the Emergency Department while non-Covid patients are brought to the relevant assessment unit in UHL.

While ED presentations decreased during the peak, this decline was not as marked in UHL as elsewhere and their numbers have rebounded more rapidly.

While the group’s elective activity remains significantly reduced, ED presentations have in recent weekdays been above pre-crisis levels, averaging over 200 per day.

Many patients who avoided coming to hospital or seeing their GP during the pandemic are now sicker as a result and will require a longer stay in hospital. This is adding to current service demand.

A number of construction projects are underway that will add a total of 122 single room inpatient beds at UHL and at Croom Orthopaedic Hospital. These include the 60-Bed Block UHL, which is due to open November 2020; 24-Bed Block UHL; due to be handed over August 2020; 14-Bed Block UHL; due to be handed over July 2020 and the 24-Bed Block Croom; due to be handed over August 2020.

Dan Danaher

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