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A new HIQA report has found the Emergency Department at UHL was "grossly overcrowded on February 21, 2023.

HSE failures continue 10 years on

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TEN years ago this month, 24- hour emergency department services in Ennis closed and services in the region were reconfigured, despite dire warnings that the HSE’s new plan would not work and could, in fact, prove disastrous.

When one looks back at the reports from that time, it is very striking how prescient the people who made the objections were but even they surely could not have believed that things would be so bad so long later.

On Monday, Clare County Council passed a motion of no confidence in Minister Simon Harris, after 81 people were left on trolleys at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) last Wednesday.

In The Clare Champion of April 3, 2009, Clare TD Pat Breen opposed the new acute model and, at the time, he felt far more moderate figures were also terrible. “Patients have been left on trolleys for extended periods. There were 17 people on trolleys in Limerick on Tuesday and 28 people on Monday,” he said, explaining his position at the time.

No doubt 17 people waiting on trolleys is very poor but how are Deputy Breen and his party going to react now that the figures are multiple times worse? Surely the Government now needs to accept that the situation is simply disastrous, that the conventional wisdom that informed decisions on care in this region was deeply flawed and things must change dramatically and quickly.

A statement from the HSE included in that 2009 edition of The Clare Champion is also striking because of how far removed it was from what was actually about to happen. “The HSE recognises that these changes may cause inconvenience for some patients. The objective of the current reconfiguration project for the Mid-West is to provide better access to high quality and safe services, closer to the patients’ home where possible and at the same time ensuring that those who require complex care can get access to it as quickly and as safely as possible. The staff of the HSE want the patient to receive the right care in the right place at the right time.”

At least one part was right; there has been a hell of a lot of inconvenience. A decade on, it was very inconvenient for the 81 people left waiting to be seen at UHL last week. Very inconvenient indeed. Demeaning, frustrating and stressful too.

April 2009 was the end of the campaign to prevent the closure of 24-hour emergency department services here and as the lights went out, Ennis Hospital Development Committee chairman Ciarán O’Dea warned that it was happening without a proper alternative being delivered. “It is incredible that the HSE and our public representatives can defend this closure without ensuring adequate ambulance cover and the prerequisite investment in beds and consultants required by the Teamwork Report. They are clearly telling the people of this county to stay at home and that they do not deserve equal access to health services,” he said.

Mr O’Dea was clearly well informed but again he surely wouldn’t have predicted that a full 10 years later, HSE employees would be working on trying to get people in this county not to go to hospital.

That is what happened last week when the following statement reached The Clare Champion. “UL Hospitals Group is appealing to members of the public to consider all their care options before presenting to the Emergency Department at UHL.

“There has been a surge in presentations to emergency departments around the country in recent days and the ED at UHL is currently managing high volumes of patients, including significant volumes of frail elderly patients with chronic conditions and complex care needs.”

Back in 2009, Dr Michael Harty had yet to enter the world of politics but he was campaigning against the HSE moves.

At a rally, he said that the Mid West Transformation programme would have to be revisited but it might take the HSE a month, a year, five years or even 15 years before the authority realised its mistakes.

Ten years have passed and the mistakes haven’t been owned. There is no indication that things will turn around anytime soon and that Ireland, the 14th wealthiest country on earth, will start delivering an adequate hospital service for its citizens in the Mid-West.

Worryingly, public anger over such things seems to have abated, with a type of outrage fatigue, so long have the problems been enduring.

At the moment, the smart money would seem to be on the service not reaching the standards required in the next 10 years, leaving myself or someone else like me well positioned to write a very similar article to this one in April 2029.


Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan
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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.

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.