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'Significant' demand for beds at Limerick Hospital from people who had Covid, but still need to recover

The hospital group responded to calls from the INMO for a Hiqa investigation into overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick

THE UL HOSPITALS Group, which manages six hospitals in the mid-west region, has said that the “extraordinary demand” for services at University Hospital Limerick, are unlike any other experienced before in the mid-west.

In a lengthy statement to The Journal, the hospital group said that overcrowding at Limerick Hospital was “multi-factorial”, and explained some of those factors.

It emerged last night that the hospital group had urged the public to consider all care options before attending the Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), as it was managing an “unprecedented level” of patient presentations.

Today, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called for an investigation by the health watchdog Hiqa into overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick.

“UHL has been the most overcrowded hospital in Ireland every day this year. It had the highest overall number of patients waiting for care without beds in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020,” it said, asking why despite additional recruitment and over 100 extra beds, it still faced “runaway overcrowding”.

“52 patients were on trolleys in UHL this morning, more than treble the number in any other hospital in the state,” the INMO said.

The hospital’s response to the INMO

In response to this statement, the UL hospital group apologised that despite the extra beds opened at UHL over the past eight months, “many admitted patients have been experiencing long waits for beds”. 

“This is not the kind of care we wish to provide, and we apologise to any patient who has experienced a long wait for a bed.”

It also said that during peak hospital demand before the pandemic, the hospital would have “up to 25 patients on trolleys in wards in the hospital… This is no longer the case”. 

The hospital group said it “noted” the INMO’s concerns about the situation, and the Group’s Chief Clinical Director and the Chief Director of Nursing & Midwifery have met with representatives of the INMO this week to discuss overcrowding.

During the past year, there has been an increase in Covid-19 patients, especially during the three periods of peak transmission. And currently, there remains significant demand for beds from people who have been de-listed as Covid-positive, but who continue to make their recovery from the disease.

“On Thursday 22 April, for example, the total number of inpatients in UHL who were either query-Covid, Covid-positive, post-Covid, or long-Covid, exceeded 40.”

Non-Covid care

It added that Covid-19 patients accounts for only one aspect “in the multi-faceted demand” for services at UHL.

“Also during the past year, there has been an increase in serious non-Covid illnesses that have been complicated due to delays in seeking treatment during lockdowns, and which require longer recovery times.

In short, people are getting sicker with more complicated conditions, and patients need to spend longer in hospital to recover from their illnesses.

It said that there is “a cumulative increase” in the length people stay in the hospital over the past few years, and that they are also experiencing “record levels of presentations”.

“In the 24 hours between 8am Monday and 8am Tuesday, 241 people attended our Emergency Department. The following three 24-hour patients brought attendances of 283, 243, and 214. Daily emergency presentations at the hospital in excess of 200 are now the norm. The average daily attendance figure for 2019, the last full year pre-pandemic, was 197.” 

UL Hospitals Group gave reassurances that all patients are receiving expert medical care while they wait, that social distancing measures are adhered to stringently, and that wait times are kept to a minimum.

“The phenomenon of hospital crowding is multi-factorial, and will not be solved by increasing bed capacity alone,” it said, adding that it was grateful for the increase in beds.

This single-room accommodation has provided our patients with the comfort they deserve, and allowed us to better manage infection risk in the hospital, not least during the considerably challenging third wave of Covid-19 in January 2021.
This in no way minimises the upset that people feel when they experience a lengthy wait for a hospital bed, and we apologise to those people, and their families, who have been inconvenienced at this time.

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“We reiterate our appeal on the public in the region to present at the ED only in the event of an emergency or a serious illness, and first consider all the alternative care options available ot them, including family doctors, out-of-hours GP services, local pharmacies and the Injury Units at St John’s, Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals, which are an excellent option for treatment of broken bones, dislocations, sprains, strains, wounds, scalds and minor burns.

“Those units are open at Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals (8am-8pm daily), and St John’s Hospital (8am-7pm, Monday to Friday).

“If you do have symptoms of Covid-19, it is important that you do not go to the Emergency Department or your GP. Ring them in advance for advice, and avoid contact with other people by self-isolating. In a medical emergency if you have severe symptoms, call 112 or 999. If you are seriously injured or ill or are worried your life is at risk, the ED will assess and treat you as a priority.”

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