'Matter of Urgency' | 

TD tells Leo Varadkar of dying OAP's agonising wait on trolley in Portiuncula Hospital

“Thirty-one months later, we are still waiting on a decision from the HSE as an average of 42 patients a day lie on trolleys in that hospital”.

Denis Naughten TD addressed the Taoiseach in the Dáil last Wednesday

Neasa CumiskeySunday World

A TD has told Leo Varadkar of a dying OAP's agonising wait on a trolley in Portiuncula Hospital as he urged the expedition of plans for a new emergency department and additional bed capacity.

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Denis Naughten brought the issue before the Dáil on January 18 as he spoke about Mary Hughes (76), who died in Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Galway, on January 4.

She was forced to move from a bed in Roscommon Hospital to a trolley in Portiuncula after suffering a seizure.

Mrs Hughes, the mother of Sunday World journalist Edel Hughes, died after waiting more than seven hours for a bed before being admitted to a ward.

TD tells Leo Varadkar of dying OAP's agonising wait on trolley in Portiuncula Hospital

The morning she was admitted, a total of 25 patients were waiting for beds in Portiuncula while 931 people were on trolleys nationwide the previous day – the highest number ever.

Addressing the Taoiseach directly, Mr Naughten said that Mrs Hughes’ case is sadly just “one of many, many personal stories emerging around this country”.

“Portiuncula Hospital, with just 157 beds and an average of 22 patients on trolleys each day this year, has a 40pc greater demand on its beds than the headline-grabbing University Hospital in Limerick and a whopping 325pc greater demand for beds than Galway University Hospital.

“But should we be surprised? No. Because not one additional bed has been put into the hospital since the emergency department was closed at Roscommon Hospital in 2011, even though Portiuncula has taken on the bulk of the Roscommon referrals”.

He continued: “In June 2020, I wrote to the Minister for Health, the Chief Executive of the HSE, and the Secretary General of the Department of Health pointing out the desperate situation in Portiuncula, which at that point had lost one in ten of its beds due to the Covid reconfiguration at the hospital.

“At that stage, the hospital had put forward a proposal seeking two modular buildings, one of which was to provide the space needed in its emergency department to deal with the present demands that were being placed on it.

“Thirty-one months later, we are still waiting on a decision from the HSE as an average of 42 patients a day lie on trolleys in that hospital”.

He added that this project is a “matter of urgency” as he asked the Taoiseach to “ease the current crisis that we’re facing”.

Responding to Mr Naughten’s address, Leo Varadkar began: “I just want to say, from the outset, how sorry I am to hear of Mary’s experience of our health service.

“For most people, their experience of our health service is very, very good and that’s what they tell us in patient experience surveys – but I know for some people it’s very bad.

“Mary sadly is just one example of many others... It’s unacceptable that she experienced that, and we do know that overcrowding in emergency departments and delays in getting to ward do result in reduced patient outcomes.

Edel and her mother Mary Hughes

“We know from international research that it can result in higher mortality as well, and that’s what makes this a very serious situation. We are working on this as a government”.

The Taoiseach pointed out that more than 1,000 beds have been introduced in hospitals across the country over the past three years, while 6,000 more doctors and nurses are now working in our health service compared to 2020.

However, he acknowledged that this is a “work in progress” with “much more to be done”.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly sat stony-faced throughout the debate as Mr Naughten continued to highlight the need to increase Portiuncula’s capacity. The minister has been heavily criticised for his approach to the overcrowding crisis.

Deputy Naughten told the Taoiseach: “We need to see pressure being taken off the emergency department and we need to see that modular building. I’m asking for your intervention in relation to that.

“The second modular building at the hospital was to facilitate the relocation of the outpatient department and to provide those 10 additional single beds to replace some of the beds lost due to Covid reconfiguration.

“But Taoiseach, that project was to be completed as part of the 2020/2021 winter initiative. These beds will not be available until this summer.

“The 50-bed ward block is being constructed at Portiuncula Hospital and that’s thanks to Minister Harris’ intervention on my behalf.

“These sadly are only replacement beds. What we need to see at the hospital is more beds.

“At my instigation, provision has been made to facilitate a further 50-bed ward block at the hospital, and I’m asking you that plans would now be expedited to proceed with this extension while the builders are onsite,” he concluded.

Mr Varadkar pledged that the Government will do “everything we can to speed up the capacity in Portiuncula” but said that an additional 50-bed ward isn’t feasible at the moment.

“The outpatient department is being relocated and that will provide a new 12-bed ward. Also, the work is ongoing with the design team on a prefab extension to the emergency department.

“The development of a further 50-bed ward would involve significant reconfiguration of the campus and so far, no capital submission has been made in relation to that, but it is something we’re open to.

“The population in the region is only going to increase. It’s going to get older and it’s unquestionable that we will need further capacity in addition to the 50-bed block that’s being built now”.

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