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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.

INMO claims overcrowded UHL flouting fire regulations

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FIRE safety reports are not being adhered to in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) due to chronic overcrowding, a nursing union has claimed.

In a statement issued to The Clare Champion, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) called on the Health and Safety Authority to act on the “unsafe conditions” affecting nurses and patients.

It has also emerged that the union is considering consulting its members on the possibility of balloting for industrial action.

“The dignity of patients is often diminished because of the conditions they are being treated in,” the INMO states.

“Emergency Departments are pressure cooker environments leading to the physical and verbal assault of our members in some instances.

“The HSE has a duty to provide a safe environment for employees and patients and this just is not being adhered to in the vast majority of hospitals.

“Our nurses are at the end of our tether, and they cannot provide the clinical care that is required. They are burnt out both physically and mentally and cannot continue at this pace.

“The slow reaction and at times hands-off approach from their employer will drive many nurses out of the profession.”

The statement went on to say that INMO was of the view that the Emergency Department agreement brokered between the union and the HSE was being ignored by the employer leaving nurses exposed to unsafe and high-risk situations.

“The union has referred this issue back to the Workplace Relations Commission and a date is awaited.

“At this juncture without real focus and input we will have no other option but to discuss industrial action with our members in emergency departments.

“The response thus far from the Health Services Executive and the Health and Safety Authority has been extremely lacking.”

While the INMO has requested that the Emergency Department Taskforce meet as a matter of urgency three times, the union stated the response from the HSE has been inadequate.

“The fact that this important body has not convened in a time period where we have seen over 3,566 patients on trolleys and a 76% increase in Covid-19 hospitalisations since the June 4 is completely inexcusable,” a union spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Noeleen Moran from the Mid-West Hospitals’ Campaign has proposed a bed capacity strategy should be worked out between Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s hospitals and with the public nursing homes in the region to identify capacity and best utilise their services ahead of the winter months.

“The HSE are now ending contracts with all those who were drafted in to perform Covid-19 testing. Many of these people have experience and training in healthcare and they should be kept on by the HSE and redeployed as support workers,” she said.

“During Covid-19 a contract was drawn up with private hospitals to alleviate pressures and this should also be examined with 101 patients on trolleys in June we cannot afford to delay on this.”

She suggested Clare media outlets should offer free advertising to any chemist in Clare that steps up to provide a late night service in the county throughout the winter months to help offset their costs.

Responding to a question tabled by Tipperary Councillor Seamus Morris at a recent HSE West Forum meeting, the UL Hospitals’ Group stated while additional beds are welcome, it has consistently stated that even sizeable ward block developments of the kind opened at University Hospital Limerick in the past two years would not fully address the long-standing, well-documented hospital bed shortfall in the Mid-West.

“This is not to minimise the importance of additional beds. We added an additional 98 beds at UHL and an additional ten critical care beds in response to the Covid-19 pandemic during 2020/2021.

“This new capacity has enabled us to keep vulnerable patients safe, including haematology, oncology and renal patients; to provide a safe pathway for people attending UHL for surgery; and to isolate Covid-positive patients.

“The group has at all times said the 60-bed block would only go some of the way in meeting the acknowledged historical shortage of inpatient bed capacity in the Mid-West.

“In addition to bed capacity, reducing overcrowding in our hospitals depends on whole system approaches around integrated care, admissions avoidance, community access to diagnostics and patient flow initiatives, all of which are committed to under Slaintecare.”

The group pointed out an extra 200 in-patient beds are required to bring it in line with the national average, while an additional 68 non-consultant hospital doctors are also required to address staffing shortages.

The group also believes that a new elective hospital is needed in the Mid-West to serve patients as admissions through the ED at UHL account for 83% of inpatient bed days, leaving limited capacity for elective activity.

Frequent cancellations of elective activity to accommodate increases in demand for emergency care have resulted in long and growing inpatient/ day-case waiting lists.

The next bed capacity project is the 96-bed block for UHL. This project has full planning permission, fire certification and is fully designed.

The tender process has now been completed and a recommendation has been made to the HSE for their approval to appoint a contractor. Construction of this four-storey, single room inpatient facility will take approximately 18 months to complete.

It is envisaged that when the new 96-bed block opens, approximately half the beds will be used to replace older bed stock on the UHL site.

This stems from a long-identified need to move away from nightingale wards to single en-suite rooms in hospital due to cross-infection issues.

The group hadn’t responded to the INMO statement at the time of going to press.

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