Letterkenny University Hospital Alamy Stock Photo
winter surge

Letterkenny consultants warn of 'service collapse' as they back call for hospital review

It follows a letter signed by 78 Donegal GPs expressing fear for the lives of their patients who attend the LUH emergency department.

CONSULTANTS AT LETTERKENNY University Hospital (LUH) have backed concerns of local GPs over conditions facing emergency department patients. 

In a letter released to media today, and sent to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and senior Department of Health and HSE figures, 13 consultants warned that the hospital is at risk of “service collapse” unless an intervention takes place.

Consultants claimed that waiting times for emergency department patients have “deteriorated quite dramatically” as this year only half of patients in the emergency department were seen within six hours of presentation – despite the HSE setting a target of 95% for hospitals.

“We consider that this hospital is in crisis and rapidly approaching a tipping point beyond which failed recruitment of medical and surgical specialists will lead to a failure of on-call rosters,” they said.

“Such a scenario would inevitably lead to service curtailment and raise the possibility of service collapse.”

Last week, a coalition of 78 Donegal GPs raised “huge patient safety concerns” ahead of an expected winter surge in emergency department demand.

They spoke of fears that their patients are increasingly “at risk of death” due to the conditions in the department. 

The Saolta Hospital Group, which oversees LUH, told The Journal that it has been “extremely challenged” amid a “lack of available beds” for patients.

It apologised and pledged to make improvements after GPs voiced serious concerns. 

Included in the appeal by local doctors was for an external review of emergency department services at LUH – this has received full backing by the 13 consultants who signed today’s letter.

“We, the undersigned consultants at Letterkenny University Hospital, wish to place on record our shared concerns with our colleagues in general practice regarding the clinical risk to our patients arising from the deteriorating conditions in our Emergency Department (ED) and lack of hospital resources,” the letter said.

“Letterkenny ED is one of the largest in Ireland with almost 150 patient presentations
per day, around 50 of whom are admitted (33% conversion rate).”

It added that although Letterkenny is a large Model 3 hospital, dealing with acute and medical care, it is “quite isolated” due to poor transport infrastructure and a lack of alternative hospital service providers in the region.

The condition of our services, many of which are under extreme pressure, has been repeatedly brought to the attention of local hospital management, Saolta Group, Department of Health and various Ministers over the last number of years.

It further said that any review should include a broader range of issues that affect the delivery of emergency care.

These involve the sustainability of medical and surgical services, radiology services and the hospital’s acute bed capacity.

It also called for any inquiry to examine access to community hospital beds for step-down care, along with urology, cardiology and endocrine services at LUH.

Responding to the concerns of local doctors last week, the Saolta group said LUH “deeply regrets that any patient is facing a long wait for a bed” after presenting to the emergency department.

The group said that patient safety is “at the forefront of everything we do” in the hospital.

It said: “Like other hospitals around the country LUH is extremely challenged by a sustained increase in demand and a lack of available beds.

“The ED continues to be extremely busy with high numbers of patients attending, many of whom present with complex needs requiring admission.”

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