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Paramedics told to bypass Wexford Hospital after it was overrun by unprecedented patient numbers

The hospital has warned of significant delays for prospective patients.

Image: Sam Boal

AMBULANCE CREWS WERE last night ordered to avoid bringing patients to Wexford General Hospital after the hospital’s emergency department was overrun with patients, The Journal has learned.  

Paramedics in the region were sent a text message yesterday informing them to avoid Wexford Hospital until 9pm last night. 

They were instead told to drive to Waterford Hospital – 60km from the Wexford facility. However, the text also stated that patients who required resuscitation were still authorised to be dropped off by ambulance.

“With immediate effect and until 21:00 hours, all crews are to bypass Wexford General Hospital in favour of Waterford except in the event of a patient requiring resus [sic]. This is a direct instruction from the National Director,” the message read. 

HSE operational data, which is released on a daily basis, shows that there were no ICU or high dependency unit (HDU) beds available in Wexford yesterday. Nine people were on trolleys there yesterday, according to figures released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation as part of their Trolley Watch initiative. 

Ger Carthy, who is a member of the National Ambulance Service, as well as a local councillor in the Wexford area, said that the emergency department was effectively shut to give the hospital “protection time” to get the numbers in the hospital down. 

Speaking in his capacity as a councillor, he told The Journal: “Daytime yesterday, Wexford General had an unprecedented amount of presentations to the emergency department. There were walk-ins as well as ambulance drop-offs. The decision was made to request Wexford be bypassed. It was to give them protective time to get their numbers down.

“This is a busy time for the health service anyway but Covid is alive in the community right now. There were extra resources put in to take the pressure off them. 

“I want to recognise the resilience of the staff at Wexford General as well as the NAS staff. These people are also not immune to the virus and have to adhere to HSE guidelines as well.”

A spokesperson for the hospital said the emergency room remains exceptionally busy and urged people to consider their “care options” before attending the hospital. 

She said: “The Emergency Department at Wexford General Hospital was exceptionally busy yesterday afternoon/evening (28 December 2021).

“In order to prioritise the safety and treatment of patients in the department, as well as those continuing to present to the hospital, an ambulance bypass protocol was requested and activated for a number of hours. This was arranged in consultation with the Ireland East Hospital Group (IEHG), and our colleagues in the South/Southwest Hospital Group (S/SWHG) and the National Ambulance Service (NAS).

“As always, the hospital will see and treat the sickest patients and those requiring urgent care first. If you attend the Emergency Department and do not need urgent treatment we regret that there may be significant delays and long waiting times.”

The hospital thanked its staff for their hard work.    

‘No Plan B’

Responding to the hospital bypass, INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha said incidents like this are inevitable due to a lack of a Plan B from the HSE when it comes to hospital capacity.

“Every year between Christmas and New Year we see a spike in attendance at our Emergency Departments but now in the context of Covid, particularly with the highly transmissible Omicron variant, it is wholly irresponsible that we still do not have a Plan B in place for our scaling up capacity within our acute hospital system.

“We need private hospitals on the pitch so our health service can act as one at this extremely difficult time,” she told The Journal

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The INMO said it has asked the HSE for a winter plan since mid-July. 

“It is now time to scale back activity to emergency activity only. If we have 244 in hospital for whom there are no beds on 29 December, we know that figure will be three times that amount in early January.

“Our public health service is too small to try provide emergency care, Covid care and carry out elective treatments. Urgent elective work must be prioritised through the private hospital system.

Speaking this morning to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said the health service is busy across the board right now.

Activity is expected to ramp up further next week as it is traditionally when GPs begin referring more people to hospital after Christmas.

She said this is always a particularly busy time for Irish hospitals, both because of GP referrals and seasonal illnesses such as the flu, but that Covid continues to further complicate the situation.

Head of the Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital Limerick, Dr Catherine Motherway, says that ICUs are currently under “significant pressure” due to Covid-19 and other seasonal illnesses.

 

 

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