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HEALTH Minister Stephen Donnelly has admitted he is concerned about the “significant risk” to patients attending the ED in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) which was identified in a recent report.

HIQA monitors UHL but Clare TD seeks wider review

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THE Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) is closely monitoring the overcrowding situation at UHL, a Clare TD has been assured.

Following a request from Deputy Michael McNamara for an inquiry into the ongoing overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has written to him and said the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) are looking at the situation.

In a letter to Mr McNamara the Minister said, “With regard to your suggestion of an inquiry, HIQA has advised that they are closely monitoring the overcrowding situation in a number of hospitals including at Limerick over the last number of weeks.

“With respect to Limerick in particular – HIQA has also been in recent correspondence with the Hospital Group CEO to seek further information and assurances from them relating to their evaluation of the current factors influencing crowding in the emergency department.

“The resultant evaluation which HIQA received is very comprehensive and strongly highlights the Hospital Group’s view as to the factors at play, not least their opinion that they remain short on bed capacity at the hospital in the context of limited bed stock across both the public and private sector in the region.

“HIQA has also written to HSE senior management to both highlight HIQA’s intention to initiate inspections under the National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare and to discuss a number of strategic matters with them in the context of roll-out of this new methodology (which will include Emergency Department inspection) – not least crowding in EDs and strategic plans to address capacity.”

However in a subsequent statement, Mr McNamara said that things have actually been deteriorating despite the addition of beds, while he said HIQA’s remit is too limited.

“The Minister informed me that a key part of the solution for Limerick is additional beds,” said Deputy McNamara.

“However, the problem of overcrowding in Limerick has worsened rather than improved since the delivery of the 60-bed modular ward block, the provision of an additional 38 inpatient beds and the anticipated delivery of a 96-bed replacement ward block, for which a works contract will be awarded in early Quarter 2 of this year subject to HSE Board approval and funding availability.

“A full review of operations within the UL Hospitals Group is required if we are to ultimately find lasting solutions to the overcrowding issues.”

He said that HIQA’s remit will not allow it to put forward potential recommendations such as the upgrading of other hospitals such as Ennis, Nenagh or St John’s to Model 3 status.

“There also needs to be an assessment of admission and discharge policies at UHL, as well as the impact of population growth on the demand for services within the UL Hospitals Group.

“I would hope that some additional outside expertise and input can form part of the delivery of any future strategic plan for tackling the long-standing overcrowding problem,” Mr McNamara added.

He feels that the root causes of the overcrowding are being neglected, with the focus just on what he referred to as firefighting.

“UHL is the most consistently overcrowded hospital in the country with over 76,000 attendances in 2021, up 16% compared to 2020 and up 7% on 2019.

“Hospital management and staff appear to be firefighting on the issue of overcrowding as opposed to identifying and rectifying the issues that are causing the problem.”

In the letter that he sent to Mr McNamara, the Minister said that he wished to “acknowledge the distress that overcrowded Emergency Departments cause to patients, their families, and frontline staff working in very challenging conditions in hospitals throughout the country”.

“The health sector is facing significant challenges in providing emergency care over the winter period while also managing the demands of Covid-19,” the letter added.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.