Regular transfers of nurses from Ennis Hospital to cover staffing shortages at University Hospital Limerick has heightened fears about future downgrading.
HSE Forum West chairman, Councillor Tom McNamara, has registered his concern about why nurses who are rostered for duty in Ennis Hospital are being requested to report for duty at UHL on an ongoing basis.
At a forum meeting in Galway on Tuesday, he said, “This is giving out the wrong message about Ennis Hospital. Clare people are worried that Ennis Hospital is being downgraded by the fact that staff are being moved out of the hospital to deal with a situation in UHL.
“The HSE needs to deal its staffing shortage in UHL as quickly as possible. I know that it is not easy to get additional staff but the go-ahead has been given for more recruitment,” he said.
While Councillor McNamara acknowledged there is a lack of staff at UHL, he claimed it is creating the wrong impression for staff and members of the public.
Commenting on the requirement for additional staff in Ennis Hospital at night, he explained it takes more staff to cover single en-suite rooms in the new 50-bed unit, compared to the previous accommodation.
Chief director of nursing and midwifery, Noreen Spillane, told the meeting that staff were moved from Ennis to UHL in an emergency, in the interest of patient safety.
In addition to appointing 33 extra staff nurses to the UL Hospital Group, Ms Spillane confirmed management are actively trying to recruit even more nurses to fill vacancies at UHL and to not transfer staff, which is not in the group’s best interest.
UL Hospital Group chief executive officer, Colette Cowen, stated that on occasions when there are staffing deficits at UHL, combined with increased number of patients waiting in the emergency department to be admitted, support from the other hospitals, including Ennis, Nenagh and Croom, is requested.
“With regard to Ennis Hospital, as they have additional staffing on duty at night compared to the other sites, they have been asked on occasion to provide support.
“This has not been a daily request, rather only when it is urgently required, in the interest of delivering quality and safe patient care,” she said.
Claiming the transfer of nurses is “ludicrous and outrageous”, Deputy Timmy Dooley claimed this practice undermines the capacity of Ennis Hospital to maintain existing activity and perform efficiently.
Deputy Dooley said it is also in conflict with reconfiguration of acute services undertaken in April 2009, which provided for a certain level of staffing in Ennis to facilitate an appropriate level of care being delivered to patients, so that pressure could be taken off UHL.
Of the 33 new staff nurses, two have been appointed to Nenagh, two in Croom, one in St Munchin’s Maternity and the balance to UHL.
The latest concern comes hot on the heels of claims that Ennis Hospital is suffering from further downgrading following cutbacks in the level of nurses and senior medical personnel.
In a joint letter to Mid-West HSE management, Councillors Johnny Flynn (FG), Christy Curtin (Ind) and Pat Daly (FF) have outlined serious staffing deficiencies, following a two-hour fact-finding visit to Ennis Hospital last week.
While the councillors were impressed with the improvements in the physical infrastructure of the hospital, particularly the state-of-the-art 50-bed inpatient unit, they questioned the overall staffing shortages.
They asked how Ennis Hospital could provide the level of service required of a Model Two acute facility with up to 60 staff less than the level prior to the removal of 24-hour emergency services in April 2009. This includes the loss of three registrars, leaving the supervision of hospital wards to a senior house medical officer.
Due to the overcrowding crisis at UHL, they claimed there is a proposal to further reduce nursing levels at Ennis by taking a nurse from the new wards, which are HIQA compliant and had agreed staffing levels prior to the wards opening.
“The removal of 24-hour casualty services in Ennis, under reconfiguration by the previous government, was to be done with corresponding improvements in various resources such as ambulance and doctor and nurse-led services.
“We believe that the much vaulted HSE Mid-West reconfiguration programme has not delivered for Clare and its people, since its introduction in 2009,” they stated.
By Dan Danaher