Elderly woman waited hours in ambulance outside CUH emergency department

Elderly woman waited hours in ambulance outside CUH emergency department

Additional reporting: Aoife Moore

An elderly woman with a suspected broken hip had to wait for three hours in the back of an ambulance outside Cork University Hospital's emergency department.

Her experience and soaring trolley figures have prompted calls for new Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to act now on the promises he made while in opposition in order to avoid a winter of chaos across the hospital system. 

The woman, in her late 80s, was waiting in one of seven ambulances which were parked outside Cork University Hospital’s (CUH) emergency department (ED) on Monday night as paramedics tried to admit patients.

The woman’s family branded the situation “a disgrace” as new figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation yesterday revealed that 192 admitted patients were waiting for a hospital bed, the highest figure since March 9.

Of those, 172 were waiting in an ED - 30 in CUH’s ED - the highest of any hospital in the country.

The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) said the new health minister, Stephen Donnelly must act.

“Covid will be with us for a few years and the restrictions on hospitals and on hospital capacity will continue for some time,” IAEM spokesman, Dr Fergal Hickey, a consultant in emergency Medicine, said.

“If it’s like this in June, can you imagine what it will be like in December? What we need now from the new health minister is for him to convert the rhetoric he was associated with in opposition into action.

“We need to think about modular accommodation, facilities outside the acute hospital sector, reusing community hubs - we need a substantial reworking of the system.” 

Mr Donnelly told the Dáil yesterday that an additional €2bn is needed to fund the health sector in 2020.

The additional funds mean the sector has been allocated a total of €19.9 billion for this year, and will likely need more funding in the next few months.

The elderly woman fell at home on Monday afternoon and suffered a suspected broken hip. Her son, who asked not to be named, called for an ambulance and she was taken to CUH, arriving at about 5.40pm.

But when he phoned the hospital about 90-minutes later for an update, he was told that his mother was still in the back of the ambulance parked outside the ED. Paramedics did their best to make her comfortable but it was close to 9pm before she was admitted. She is due to undergo surgery today.

“The paramedics were fantastic. I have great praise for them. But the system is an absolute disgrace. I understand the Covid restrictions but there has to be a better system than sitting for hours on end in ambulances. This needs to be addressed,” he said.

A spokesperson for CUH said National Ambulance Service and CUH’s emergency department staff work together to ensure patients are transferred to hospital care as quickly and as safely as possible.

“While some ambulances have experienced delays in transferring patients to ED care it is important to note that escalation policies are in place between NAS and EDs to manage any delays in patient transfers and to ensure that ambulances are available to respond to emergency calls as they arise at all times,” it said.

Dr Hickey said it is clear that bed capacity, and the funding to deliver it, needs to be increased dramatically.

“We can’t keep trying to put a quart into a pint pot,” he said.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the number of patients attending EDs fell significantly. But the figures have steadily increased and are now at normal levels for this time of the year.

The IAEM warned last month that ongoing Covid restrictions within hospitals would affect bed capacity, and would have a knock-on effect on EDs - the pressure value of the hospitals’ system.

It said that it would be “absolutely indefensible” that crowding be allowed to occur in an ED at a time when healthy people were being advised to socially distance and warned that EDs could become the next major reservoir of Covid-19 infection.

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