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Elderly patients forced to ‘wait on floor’ at Galway hospital

Labour TD to meet University Hospital Galway chief today to discuss overcrowding complaints at emergency department.
Aug 30th 2011, 7:30 AM 871 11

THE CLINICAL DIRECTOR of University Hospital Galway (UHG) is to meet with Labour TD Derek Nolan today to discuss lengthy waiting times at the facility’s emergency department.

Nolan told TheJournal.ie that he felt compelled to request the meeting with Dr David O’Keeffe after receiving reports from concerned constituents who had visited the hospital.

Nolan said he had been told stories of medical staff “stepping over elderly patients” who were forced to wait on the floor due to overcrowding – and also recalled a story about a man, who was suffering from dementia, being left alone on a chair for hours on end.

“People were close to tears telling me about what they had seen,” Nolan said, insisting that overcrowding at UHG was “not a once-off”.

Healthstat figures released by the HSE in May show that of the patients who waited to be admitted to UHG’s emergency department during that month, 40  per cent waited between 12 and 24 hours. Approximately 29 per cent were required to wait between six and 12 hours, while four per cent were forced to wait for more than 24 hours.

Waiting times at the emergency department affected a cross-section of society, according to Nolan, however he pointed out that younger patients were generally better able to deal with the problem than the elderly. He said:

The vulnerable and elderly in society in particular depend on our public hospitals to meet their needs, but at the moment this is not happening as it should. UHG is under severe pressure, particularly at the weekends when overcrowding is at its worst.

Nolan was keen to point out that the standard of care at UHG was of a very high standard – once a patient was admitted. “It’s a bottle-neck situation, unfortunately,” he said.

Overcrowding can have a direct impact on a patient’s chance of recovery, according to recent research published in the British Medical Journal: the study found that overcrowding and long waits in emergency rooms led to more patients dying or needing further hospital treatment. The research, which involved more than 14 million patients in Canada, found that reducing average waiting times by just one hour could dramatically increase survival rates.

Nolan said that he plans to discuss with Dr O’Keeffe the possibility of moving some services out of Galway in a bid to reduce waiting times. He will also ask Dr O’Keeffe for his thoughts on the government’s new Special Delivery Unit and its “potential role in resolving the situation”.

Each day, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation complies a list of patients forced to wait on trolleys for medical attention – the vast majority of whom are patients presenting at emergency departments. The latest Trolley Watch figures, released yesterday, show that 35 people were waiting on trolleys at UHG: the highest number of patients on trolleys in any hospital in the country.

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Jennifer Wade

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