Ambulance crews are queuing up at the emergency department of a major hospital and waiting up to two hours before they can unload patients and are released to return to duty.
Paramedics say they are becoming increasingly frustrated by the daily overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick, where up to seven ambulances were backed up on Wednesday as 42 patients waited on trolleys inside.
Figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation showed there were more patients waiting on trolleys at the hospital on Wednesday than at any other hospital in the country.
Ambulances were backed up outside the emergency department with paramedics left to care for some patients until they could be moved to trolleys inside the hospital.
Paramedics claim large areas of the mid-west are being left without emergency ambulance cover while they are sitting outside the hospital waiting to unload their patients.
“We’re arriving at [University Hospital Limerick] with patients who are either left waiting in the back of ambulances or on trolleys before they are seen. It’s gone beyond ridiculous now and something has to be done before someone dies in the back of an ambulance,” one frustrated paramedic said yesterday.
“If an ambulance comes from all the way from west Clare — say Kilbaha or Cross — with a patient, that’s 90 minutes to get to Limerick. The crew might still have to wait two hours before they can unload their patient and get back on the road. By the time they get back to base in Kilrush, half their shift is over with just one patient transported,” he added.
“And what’s worse, that crew might not even be allowed back to their base. They could be sent off down to Tipperary or Co Limerick on another job while their own area is left uncovered.”
The INMO has raised concerns about patient safety and the impact that working in such a chaotic environment is having on nurses.
Its industrial relations officer in Limerick, Mary Fogarty, has demanded an independent review of the reconfiguration of acute hospital services in the region and urged the Government “to prioritise the urgent, and immediate, recruitment of nurses”.
A spokesman for the UL hospitals group said: “There is a significant increase in the numbers of patients in the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. This time of year is traditionally a busy period for hospitals and brings an anticipated increase in activity in emergency departments around the country.”
“The flu season has started and flu is circulating at the moment; much of the increase can be attributed to increases in the number of people suffering with flu and other seasonal illnesses common at this time of year.
“Hospital management and clinical directors are taking all immediate actions necessary to deal with the increase in demand for their services.”
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