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‘Major internal incident’ at University Hospital Limerick due to overcrowding

Management have sent out a SOS call for off duty staff to come back to work to deal with the crisis.

Hospital trolley© Getty Images

David RaleighIndependent.ie

Management at the country’s most overcrowded hospital University Hospital Limerick (UHL), declared a “major internal incident” due to “record high” attendances at its Emergency Department, Monday, January 2.

A UHL spokeswoman said patients attending the ED with non emergency care needs would face “lengthy delays”.

“The unprecedented level of ED attendance is driven by a surge in patients with respiratory infections, including Covid-19, flu and RSV,” said the spokeswoman.

UHL has taken a number of emergency actions to try to address the worsening situation at the hospital.

Management have sent out a SOS call for off duty staff to come back to work to deal with the crisis.

“Extra staff including nurses and doctors have been asked to present to the hospital for duty,” the spokeswoman said.

“Staff are being redeployed to care for additional patients in the ED, and additional surge beds are being opened in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s Hospitals.”

University Hospital Limerick. Photo: Stock

A UL Hospitals Group (ULHG) spokeswoman, responding to specific claims that UHL had closed its doors to all non-emergency ambulances, apart from stroke and Resus patients, said the ULHG activated HSE operational contingency plans with the National Ambulance Service (NAS) to divert some patients from UHL to other acute hospitals to support extreme levels of demand at UHL.

“Today, UL Hospitals Group requested that NAS activate those arrangements for a number of hours to support University Hospital Limerick’s response to an internal major incident,” said the spokeswoman.

“Where these procedures are activated, non-critical patients are diverted to the closest alternative appropriate hospital. The most critically ill patients, for example those with suspected heart attack, stroke and those that were medically unstable continue to be conveyed to UHL during this time.”

Day beds at UHL are also being “converted” to inpatient beds and there is a renewed “focus on discharging patients to home and the community”.

Further emergency action includes “converting a ward in Croom Hospital for medical patients”.

All outpatient appointments at UHL, scheduled for Tuesday January 3, have been cancelled and “only urgent elective surgery is going ahead in UHL over the coming days”, said the spokeswoman.

“Anyone presenting to ED today with a less urgent condition is going to face an exceptionally long wait for care. We urge the public to consider all available healthcare alternatives to ED,” she said.

“Less acutely unwell patients are asked to first consider our Injury Units, GPs, out-of-hours GP services and pharmacists before attending ED.”

Injury Units in Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s are operating as normal. Opening hours for Ennis and Nenagh Injury Units are 8am -8pm and St John’s Injury Unit 8am-7pm.

“We apologise to every patient who is currently experiencing a long wait for admission at UHL, and for the inconvenience and frustration this causes for patients’ loved ones,” said the spokeswoman.

“In addition, due to the high number of patients with flu and Covid-19 and a number of ongoing outbreaks, all visiting to UHL has been restricted,” she said.

“We regret the distress or inconvenience our visiting ban causes for patients and their loved ones, but it is necessary given the high levels of flu and Covid-19.”

Exceptions to the visiting ban include parents of child patients; people assisting confused patients (e.g. dementia); people visiting patients who are critically unwell or at end of life (on a case-by-case basis).

“All these exemptions are limited to one person per patient only.”

A demonstration march is being organised in Limerick on January 21 to highlight the overcrowding crisis at UHL.

Many in the region, including families of patients who have died at the hospital while waiting on trolleys in its over-crowded corridors have repeatedly called for the reopening of 24-hour EDs in Clare and north Tipperary that were closed in 2009 and funnelled to UHL.

A spokesman for the organisers of the planned march stated that “the people of Limerick have had enough”.

“We are demonstrating a protest on January 21st 2023, starting at the old courthouse Merchants Quay Limerick, through the city and out to UHL.”

He said he was calling for the “immediate resignation” of a number of the hospital’s senior management team.

“We are also calling for the immediate reopening of - Nenagh, Ennis, & St John's A&Es, to alleviate the waiting times at UHL A&E,” he added.

However, when asked about this last June, the Minister for Health, Simon Donnelly, appeared to pour cold water on the suggestion.

“The clinical view on this is unambiguous. Doctors would say no because if you’ve got something seriously wrong with you, and you go to a small hospital it doesn’t have all the specialties,” said Mr Donnelly.

“You may need one of those specialties, and it’s not there – now you’re in trouble, because now they have to get you to the bigger hospital anyway, and time matters in these cases,” the minister added.

UHL provides the only 24-hour ED for a catchment of 400,000 and is consistently the most overcrowded ED in the country.


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