Hopes are high that 2017 will be the last year of record numbers of patients being treated on trollies in the overcrowded corridors of the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. Last week the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation recorded 612 patients on trolleys throughout the State. On just one day alone there were 66 in UHL, the highest number yet. In 2016 there were 8,000 on trolleys in UHL.
Clare Fine Gael TD and Minister for Employment and Small Business, Pat Breen, has expressed his hope that a new 15-bed transition lounge, due to open at University Hospital Limerick from next week, will go some way to alleviating the backlog and overcrowding at the hospital’s emergency department. Minister Breen stated, “The €200,000 15-bed unit will provide an area for patients to wait after being discharged, freeing up more beds in UHL earlier in the day. The unit will be staffed by two nurses and will accommodate patients who have been discharged and are ready to go home, as well as patients who have been discharged to step-down hospitals such as Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s Hospital.”
Minister Breen said he understands that once a patient has been discharged by a consultant in the morning, they will then be accommodated in this transition lounge while awaiting paper work and while waiting to be collected. “As a result patients who have arrived in the Emergency Department overnight and who require a bed can be accommodated in the morning and will not have to wait as long,” added Minister Breen. The Minister also commented, “I am assured that the new transition unit will be comfortable and safe for patients, while allowing waiting patients access to beds quicker.” He added, “Measures like this are a temporary solution to the overcrowding issue at the hospital’s Emergency Department while we await the opening of the new Emergency Department at the end of May.”
Minister Breen also explained that following the publication of the Health Strategy at the end of last year it had been feared that resources would not be in place to open the new ED unit in Limerick before October next. “However following extensive talks with my colleagues, the Minister for Health and Minister for Finance, a further €1.8 million was secured in the last few weeks, so that the unit can be opened at the end of May. The recruitment of staff for the new unit is already under way,” he said. Minister Breen added, “The issue at the emergency department is complex, but cannot continue as it has for the last number of years.
In conclusion Pat Breen said he has spoken with the Minister for Finance about the need to secure the seed funding for the 96 new beds planned for UHL as soon as possible. “Now that the finance to open the Emergency Department has been secured,” he said, “we cannot waste time in beginning work on providing the new acute beds unit on the hospital campus. I will be speaking with the Minister for Health on this matter also as a matter of urgency.”
Adding to the problems at UHL, last week visiting restrictions were again put in place in Unit 5B, due to a number of confirmed cases of influenza. In the interests of patient safety and in line with infection control procedures, visitors restrictions were imposed while infection controls remained in place.
Meanwhile in an update from the HSE, Dr. Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of Public Health said, “Influenza activity has increased in the past week and will probably peak in the next week or two.” It is expected that flu-like illnesses will remain high until mid-February.