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Overcrowding has surged to record levels at University Hospital Limerick where there were 97 patients on trolleys on Tuesday.

Waiting lists soar by 40% due to “catastrophic” Covid-19 impact

THE “catastrophic” impact of Covid-19 on Mid-West health services came sharply into focus this week with confirmation the number of public inpatients waiting for treatment has soared by almost 40%.

New figures published by the National Purchase Treatment Fund have revealed the number of public inpatients waiting for treatment jumped by almost 40% from 4,798 on January 30 to 6,676 on October 30.

This includes 2,266 inpatients waiting for treatment at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) and 621 in Ennis Hospital.

The numbers on the outpatient list also grew by 16% from 47,184 in January to 54,759 in October.

There are 42,777 outpatients in UHL, 7,235 in Croom, 2,026 in Ennis, 1,296 in Nenagh and 1,425 in St John’s Hospital waiting for treatment.

Deputy Michael McNamara described the increase as “alarming but not surprising” in view of the cancellation of elective surgery.

“I raised the issue of health services with the HSE and with former Health Minister Simon Harris in the Mid-West throughout the summer and early Autumn and was told ‘live horse and you will get grass’”.

“Inadequate staffing levels are inexcusable in terms of having so many people coming home from abroad and made themselves available to work in the health service.”

While HSE Health Forum member, Councillor Murphy acknowledges huge sums of money have to be spent on dealing with Covid-19, he called for a new plan at regional and national level to deal with the impact of the virus on non-Covid-19 illnesses.

“Covid-19 has had a catastrophic impact on health services.

“There is a need for a discussion on the consequences of Covid-19 whether or not the immediacy of serious illness or death due to Covid-19 is going to be much less than deaths from non-Covid-19 illnesses when we look back in a few years’ time.

“Are we going to be overwhelmed by the lack of opportunity for people to access health services for treatments that may not be life-threatening in the short term but if they are put off for 12 months or two years they become life-threatening?

Councillor Murphy said huge sums of money would be needed next year to try and restore services to a place they were before the onset of the virus, which wasn’t great.

He warned public waiting lists would get even worse in the coming months following the recent cancellation of elective procedures in UHL and Ennis Hospital.

“We are only starting to see the thin edge of the wedge with these numbers.

“People will die from other illnesses because we had to deal with Covid-19 as an immediate crisis situation.”

The UL Hospitals’ Group recalled it has to take the very difficult decision to suspend almost all elective activity last March due to the global health emergency and more recently in UHL and Ennis Hospital following an outbreak of Covid-19

The group has been increasing scheduled care across all sites in line with national guidelines.

During the height of the first wave of the pandemic in May 2020, there were a total of 13,760 attendances, face-to-face and virtual, at outpatient clinics across the group, significantly down on the 23,218 attendances in May 2019.

There were 22,275 total outpatients attendances in September 2020, only marginally down on the 22,499 attendances for the corresponding month last year. For the period of March-Sept 2020, total OPD attendances across the Group were at 78% of total attendances during the corresponding period of 2019.

As activity on sites increases, the group has to balance the clinical needs of patients against the risk to all patients and staff in hospitals presented by Covid-19.

The resumption of services has been slow due to the need for social distancing and best infection control guidelines.

“In all hospitals in the land, there will be fewer patients in waiting rooms and clinical areas at any one time, and fewer patients on theatres lists on any one day. We will prioritise the sickest patients for treatment, in line with national guidelines,” a group spokesman said.

Dan Danaher

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