THE failures of University Hospital Limerick, which recently broke Irish records for patients waiting on trolleys; was the background to a behind closed doors meeting between UL Hospitals representatives CEO Colette Cowan, Chief Clinical Director Paul Burke and Clare County Council on Monday.
Councillor Tom McNamara was one of those who attended but he didn’t accept all that he was told. “They outlined the reason for the overcrowding, they said there was an MRI scanner down and they need a second one. They said that 25 beds extra were opened up when the 17 closed, which we found hard to believe. You know in your heart and soul if 25 beds were going up in Limerick Regional Hospital, there’d be a big fanfare. From what we can gather from below, there weren’t 25 beds open. How come if there were 25 beds opened, when the 17 closed, the numbers on trolleys jumped up to 81?”
A few years ago the opening of a new emergency department at UHL was supposed to provide a large part of the answer to the region’s failing health services, and Councillor McNamara said the UHL representatives are again saying new facilities will make a big difference. “They said that money was allocated, which we knew, for the 60-bed modular unit. They’re doing the preliminary ground works at the moment, the contractor is coming in soon and you’re looking at 15 months for that to be complete. You’re looking at the 95-bed unit on the 2022 service plan. Whether it will happen by 2022 or not, your guess is as good as mine.”
Councillor McNamara said that the provision of staff is now a major issue at the hospital. “There’s a major problem down there with staffing. There’s an embargo now, they can’t take on staff. Even people that they had told they were taking on in the next couple of weeks, they can’t take them on now because of the embargo.”
He feels that the region needs a model three hospital and that Clare’s TDs and sole Senator need to make sure it is based in Ennis. “I’m very adamant that it needs the support of a model three hospital because when the pressure is on the model four, you still have the A&E open in the model three. The minister said that he would look at the reconfiguration of the hospital groups, with the view to increasing the population in the Mid-West to justify having a model three. I think it’s up to our five Oireachtas members to ensure it’s in Ennis.”
The Kilmaley councillor feels the state of services in the Mid- West shows a cultural reluctance to accept errors. “We can never admit to a mistake. You’re supposed to learn from mistakes but we just can’t admit to it.”
Councillor Johnny Flynn said that he had told the UHL representatives that this part of the country is very vulnerable if there is a serious accident or some kind of disaster here.
“They responded that the reconfiguration and closure of Ennis happened in 2008 and 2009 and the investment into bed capacity and staff wasn’t done because of the economic collapse but they’ve started it in the last number of years. I’m still not happy with the current condition of the provision of health services in the region and I outlined
that I would be requesting and advocating for the Model Three hospital in Ennis with 24 hour A&E. I believe it’s crucial for a number of reasons.
“One of the main reasons I outlined to them was that as a former member of the Mid-West major emergency planning group, when I was fire chief in Limerick, in the event of a major emergency in the airport, on the estuary, on the motorway, in the tunnel or at industrial sites in the region, the previous ability of Nenagh, St John’s and Ennis, to deal with casualties from a major emergency meant that the University Hospital in Limerick could continue to provide health services for the resident population. But because they’ve downgraded those three hospitals, there isn’t the expertise in them to send to the emergency site or to receive emergency casualties to those hospitals. From a civil protection point of view, the Mid-West region is not adequately covered to deal with a major emergency.”
Giving changes in the region’s demographics, he feels that services in the region are a long way from where they need to be. “The HSE senior management outlined that 10 years ago, the Teamwork Report identified that 150 beds needed to be added to Limerick, when Ennis and the other hospitals closed. None of those were added. I believe we’re probably short 250 beds really with the population growth and the ageing of the population.”