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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. Lisa Moyles, INMO.
Hospital overcrowding

Donnelly denies review of Midwest hospitals following Aoife Johnston inquest is 'election stunt'

Donnelly said that things have “gone wrong” with UHL, compared to other hospitals that have reduced overcrowding by use of extra funding.

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN today dismissed the notion that his announcement of a review into emergency care provision in the Midwest is an “election stunt”, as has been suggested by some opposition politicians. 

The Minister said that he was concerned to find that safe staffing levels have not yet been implemented at University Hospital Limerick (UHL), though full funding has been allocated. 

He said that he has asked HIQA to carry out a review of emergency care capacity in the Midwest of the country to see whether a second ED is needed alongside the one in UHL, but when pressed by the media on what the timeline for this review will be, he couldn’t give any firm answers.

The Minister said he is awaiting the findings of Chief Justice Frank Clarke, who is investigating why a plan to alleviate pressure on the UHL emergency department was never activated, in the wake of the death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston, who died by medical misadventure at the hospital in 2022 after contracting meningitis and developing sepsis.

After he receives this report, the terms of reference for HIQA’s review will be finalised. 

When asked if this move is an “election stunt”, as one limerick election candidate and multiple opposition politicians have suggested, Donnelly said: “I’m not interested in what some election candidate is saying, I’m interested in what patients and families are saying”. 

Donnelly said that though the recruitment embargo is “putting pressure on staff”, he hopes that the conversion of 400 agency staff members currently working in our health service into full time positions this year will bring us “closer to where we need to be”.

Today he told nurses and midwives that while the Government’s performance in health hasn’t been “perfect” during his tenure, key progress on staffing and capacity has been made in a number of areas in the HSE and in hospitals nationwide.

In his speech, referencing the upcoming general election, Donnelly said that while he “hopes” it is not the case, this year could well be the last time he addresses the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization’s (INMO) annual conference as Minister for Health. 

Donnelly said that he is working with Government colleagues to try and “resolve” the current situation with the HSE recruitment ban, and the impact it is having on the implementation of the safe staffing framework, which is a policy he said he is committed to seeing through.  

The President of the INMO Karen McGowan told the Health Minister today that safe staffing levels cannot be achieved with an embargo in place, and that healthcare workers cannot continue to be put through “inquest after inquest” while the decision makers creating “unsafe conditions” are not.

Donnelly today insisted that trolley numbers are coming down in Ireland’s hospitals

“Limerick is not achieving a reduction, it’s actually had a very big increase, that’s why I have kicked off a review,” Donnelly said. 

“They’ve had a huge increase in the budget, a 40% increase in the workforce… they’ve had 108 extra beds go in, I’ve committed to 86 more for this year, and then they’ve nearly 200 beds being built on site,” he said. 

The minister said that while other hospitals have been able to use additional funding to alleviate overcrowding and to bring down the number of patients stuck on trolleys “It’s gone the wrong way in Limerick. 

He said that HIQA has acknowledged that some reforms are taking place in the hospital, and that one key thing being changed is that senior decision makers are now on shift in the evenings and on the weekends. 

“When Aoife Johnston died it was not standard practice… it should have been, I had that conversation with them many times, and it didn’t happen, only when the new consultant contract came into play was it put into place,” Donnelly further said about senior decision makers being present outside of 9-5pm on weekdays. 

Donnelly defended Department of Health Secretary General Robert saying that healthcare workers “must do better” to bring waiting lists down earlier week, as he said the civil servant likely meant that “productivity” could be increased within the health service. 

He said that hospital consultants in some areas are not taking the same number of outpatient appointments that they did pre-Covid, and that this needs to change. 

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