UNIVERSITY Hospital Limerick has been criticised as “most overcrowded and under-resourced hospital in the state” by Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne, as the number of patients on trolleys increased from 70 to 77 this week, writes Dan Danaher.
New figures produced by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation show UHL was the most overcrowded hospital with 1,269 patients on trolleys last month.
This compares to 943 patients waiting for beds in University Hospital Letterkenny: 829 in University Hospital Galway and 688 in University Hospital Cork.
In fact, the number of patients on trolleys increased fivefold in UHL from 244 in October 2013 to 1,269 in October 2021.
The number of patients on trolleys in Ennis Hospital increased from just three in October 2020 to 30 last month.
The current levels of Covid-19 have had an impact on staffing. The number of staff on Covid-19 related leave has increased from 50 last week to 71 this week.
In addition, there are 27 staff across the group who are vulnerable to Covid-19 and, for their own safety, must remain off-site for now.
Covid-19 activity in UHL remains high. There were 37 Covid-19 positive inpatients being treated in UHL on Wednesday, of whom eight are receiving critical care, either in the Intensive Care or High Dependency Units.
There is also a Covid-19 outbreak in the hospital that has affected five inpatient wards and resulted in a hospital-wide visiting ban.
Deputy Wynne said that, according to INMO Trolley Watch data collated and analysed by the Irish Patients Association, UHL has consistently been one of the worst performing Hospital Groups for trolley numbers, which lays bare a failure by Government to invest in healthcare for the Mid-West.
“Despite the significant allocations each year since 2019 to increase capacity at UHL, the situation hasn’t improved. This shows that the Government’s fire-fighting tactics of resolving the failures of our health system simply are not working.
“This lack of beds is a serious concern for a number of reasons. It means that patients presenting at Emergency Departments are forced to wait on trolleys, which causes massive stress on an already overly extended workforce, and especially during Covid, exposes staff to unnecessary risk.”
“Scheduled care – such as vital surgeries – are being cancelled to free up beds for emergency care.
“The worrying situation of Covid-19 in our hospitals is putting more pressure on ICU capacity and exposing more patients and staff to Covid outbreaks due to unsafe working conditions in hospitals.”
The group admitted provision of hospital care is a challenge currently, in the Mid-West and across the State, due to increased transmission of Covid-19 in our communities and a level of demand for emergency treatment of Covid and non-Covid illnesses that has never before been experienced in the Irish public hospital system.
In addition, UHL’s Emergency Department (ED) remains exceptionally busy. During October, the average overall daily attendance at ED averaged 226, compared with 195 in 2019, the last full year pre-pandemic.
Average weekday attendances Monday to Friday for the month were 241, and average presentations on Saturdays and Sundays were 193.
Daily presentations reached a high of 310, and exceeded 240 on 11 days of the month. On only 8 days, all on weekends, did attendances not exceed 200. During the 24-hour period between 8am on November 1 and 8am on November 2, 269 people presented at the ED.
Staff have worked tirelessly through this challenging time to maximise patient flow and to reduce wait times for our patients. The group regret that any patient has to wait on a trolley for an inpatient bed, and none of the above is to minimise the anxiety that patients experience during long waits.
It should be noted that the level of investment in recent times in state-of-the-art single-bed inpatient accommodation at UHL has enabled the group to continue providing healthcare to the patients who need it most, despite the significant pressures arising from the latest surge in all illnesses.
Since late 2019, a total of 122 such beds have been added to the Hospital Group bed-stock, including 60 beds that were approved and constructed prior to the pandemic, and 62 that were funded under the national pandemic response, including 38 on the UHL site, and 24 at Croom Orthopaedic Hospital.
Also during the pandemic, HSE investment has enabled the group to significantly increase its critical care capacity to 28 beds, including 12 ICU beds – an increase of two during the pandemic and 16 HDU beds – an increase of eight during the same period.