The most consistently overcrowded hospital in the country is to close a 17-bed ward from tomorrow.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the decision by University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to close the beds “simply does not make sense".
“Limerick is already the most overcrowded hospital in the country,” said INMO spokesperson Mary Fogarty.
Ward 1A opened as additional hospital capacity in September 2017 as a medical short stay unit.
However Ms Fogarty said it “never functioned as such, it turned into another inpatient ward”.
She said the hospital had implemented a number of initiatives, such as extending the opening hours of an acute medical assessment unit (AMAU) in January, but it had failed to take the pressure off the emergency department (ED).
Ms Fogarty said:
She said management had asked nurses to “take a leap of faith” in relation to plans to reduce overcrowding but they were "understandably sceptical”.
She said INMO compromise proposals to close the beds on a phased basis were rejected.
The HSE said in a statement that the closure of the ward was to facilitate the completion of works on a new fracture unit, as part of a plan to redesignate the space occupied by the old ED, which was replaced by a new €24m ED in 2017.
Moreover, the ward had only ever been opened “on a temporary basis” and the bed closures would be offset by opening on a fulltime basis a 12-bed surgical short-stay unit which is currently operating four days a week and the opening next Monday of five beds in the old AMAU.
The hospital said three additional cardiology beds opened last week and a 15-bed medical ward will be fully staffed at weekends from this weekend. It said the plans in relation to Ward 1A were shared with the INMO last year.
Ms Fogarty said the hospital had told them they were testing the impact of the ward over last winter to see if it assisted in overcrowding.
“As it appears management could not implement the concept [of a short stay medical ward] they decided to close it, instead of utilising it to take patients off the public corridors - a decision we could never condone,” Ms Fogarty said.
The INMO is seeking a meeting with management early next week.