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Fears over 'threat to life' in Ireland's busiest A&E leads patients to call fire services

NewsBy Lynne Kelleher
Fears over 'threat to life' in Ireland's busiest A&E leads patients to call fire services

PATIENTS in University Hospital Limerick called in the Fire Service last weekend because of fears that chronic overcrowding in the A&E posed a serious threat to life.

Overcrowding in Ireland’s busiest emergency department hit a high of 41 patients on trolleys on Thursday - along with another 11 trolleys in wards around the hospital.

The fire officer expressed concern that the resuscitation area was blocked with trolleys last Sunday night, after being called by distressed relatives of a patient waiting on a trolley.

A hospital source said the car park was full with ambulances unable to leave as there were no more trolleys available for their patients.

"It was crazy. They couldn't bring some patients in from the ambulances because there were no more trolleys available," said a source.

"There were patients waiting between the double doors on the way in to A&E from the ambulance bay. To the left is the resuscitation area, it should be clear.

"Outside the two double doors there were more ambulance patients waiting with paramedics. The rest of the place was jammed."

The hospital source said there was concern expressed by the fire officer about access to the resuscitation area being blocked.

"If a patient in the middle of the A&E had a cardiac arrest there was no way for the doctors to attend because the patient couldn't be brought into the resuscitation area.

"The paramedics couldn’t leave to take a call as they can't sign over a patient until they are on a trolley."

The number of people on trolleys in the Limerick Hospital in A&E and in the wards remained in the 40s or over 50 all this week - double or triple the number of people on trolleys in other hospitals in the country.

The hospital source said nurses are forced to work in chronic conditions.

"The nurses are squeezing themselves between trolleys. There are old people there thrown on trolleys with their nappies showing. Their food can be left at the end of their trolleys as there is nobody there to feed them in some cases.

"The nurses are doing their best, but they are under so much pressure and it’s only going to get worse going into the winter. Staff have been getting burnt out and leaving.”

In a statement issued to the Sunday World, University Hospital Limerick confirmed that the Senior Assistant Chief Fire Officer attended the Emergency Department on the evening of October 23 and expressed concerns about levels of overcrowding. The hospital also confirmed that there was some delay to ambulances arriving at the hospital.

"Patients arriving by ambulance in our ED wait on an ambulance trolley in the Department to be triaged, patients are then transferred to a hospital trolley when one becomes available. It is a priority for UL Hospitals to release ambulance trolleys as soon as possible so that the crew can take the next call."

It added that the hospital is one of the busiest in the country.

"UL Hospitals Group has long acknowledged that the emergency department at UHL is simply too small for the volumes of patients attending and is not fit for purpose.

"A new state-of-the-art emergency department, that will triple the size of the current department, is currently being fitted out and will open in May 2017. Once built, the experience of our ED patients will improve immeasurably in terms of comfort, privacy and dignity."

At the start of October, Minister for Health Simon Harris met with patients in the overcrowded A&E while at the hospital to open another building. Afterwards, he said that there is a "clear need" for a new emergency department.

Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO) spokesperson for Limerick, Mary Fogarty, said it is impossible to provide proper care in a severely overcrowded A&E.

She said: "The health and safety of our members regarding stress levels is of concern and also the health and safety of patients who cannot be provided with care.

"The issue is there aren't enough acute hospital beds in the region. The new emergency department won't make any difference. It will be a bigger area, it won't be as crowded, but the patients will still be on trolleys unless they get additional beds."