By David Raleigh
The UL Hospitals Group, which oversees Limerick's three hospitals, has apologised to patients and admitted the city's Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick is "not fit for purpose", after a whistleblower described conditions there as "absolute hell".
The source revealed how nurses and doctors at the Limerick ED are seeing "an average of 220 patients per day".
Emergency Departments at St John's Hospital, Limerick; Ennis in Clare; and Nenagh in Tipperary, were closed down by the previous Fianna Fáil/Green Party coalition government and streamlined to UHL.
"It's been absolute hell recently," the source said.
"We are constantly down staff and dealing with hundreds of patients."
The source also highlighted 33 patients waiting at the hospital last Monday, just to see a triage nurse.
"This was 33 people just waiting to get in," they explained.
"The capacity at the hospital for safe numbers of trolleys in the ED is 36, but we had 54 last week," they also revealed.
In a statement responding to the whistleblower's concerns for patient safety, the UL Hospitals Group admitted the ED in Limerick is "not fit for purpose".
It said, it "has long acknowledged that the emergency department at UHL is simply too small for the volumes of patients attending".
"The ED is one of the busiest in the country with approximately 60,000 attendances annually," the stamens added.
"Over the year, this means an average of approximately 160 patients attending daily. Seasonal factors mean that during the winter peak, ED attendances can occasionally exceed 200 per day," it added.
"There were, for example, 179 ED attendances between 8am on Thursday, February 18th and
8am on Friday, February 19th."
"The total numbers in the ED overnight...rarely exceeds 70 patients," it added.
The UHL group said, "as of 2pm on Friday, February 19th, there were 47 patients in the ED."
It also acknowledged that "breaches of Patient Expectant Times...were, along with every major acute hospital in the country...all too regular an occurrence."
It reiterated that, "a new state-of-the-art emergency department, that will triple the size of the current department, is currently being fitted out and will open in the first quarter of 2017."
It said it had taken measures to try to tackle the crisis in the Limerick ED, including, "increasing (overall) bed capacity at by over 40 in the last two months; hiring additional staff; additional ward rounds to facilitate earlier discharge or transfer where appropriate; securing
funding to open a specialist facility for elderly patients at St John's Hospital, Limerick; postponing non-urgent elective surgery if necessary; and closer co-operation with our colleagues in the Community Healthcare Organisation."
The hospital said it "apologises" to patients for the ongoing situation at the Limerick ED.
UHL is one of several hospitals which will feature in a special RTE General Election, Prime Time Investigates programme, recorded by its team of undercover reporters.
It airs at 9.30pm this coming Monday night