Mater Private: How to avoid overcrowded hospitals

Dr Oisin Powell suggests three strategies to avoid the emergency department, the long delays and overcrowded waiting rooms of hospitals.

RECENT editorials in the Irish Examiner included headlines like “Medics’ anger at trolley crisis” (November 16, 2016) and “More than 600 patients were on hospital trolleys nationwide yesterday” (February 2, 2017) reflect the prolonged and continued pressures affecting our hospitals and their dedicated but severely stretched professionals.

Dr Oisin Powell, consultant emergency medicine physician at Mater Private Hospital Cork, says: “When the unexpected happens and you need to go the emergency department anywhere in the country, including my home city of Cork, you can be sure the healthcare staff will do their very best to treat you promptly and with professionalism. 

"However, there are times, like we have seen almost daily over the last few months, when this can be very difficult indeed.”

To avoid the emergency department, the long delays and overcrowded waiting rooms Dr Powell suggests three strategies: lifelong attention to staying well; prevention of illness or exacerbation of illness, and making the best use our worldclass primary health care facilities.

Firstly, he says, there are several simple things you can do yourself. Eat well —there is no substitute for a healthy diet with a balanced mix of all the main food groups and choices that are low in sugar and saturated fats.

Lifelong indulgence in excessive saturated fats and processed foods may well lead to the onset of high blood pressure and type two diabetes both of which are the precursors to many of the serious conditions seen in emergency rooms like stroke and heart disease.

Take regular exercise 30 to 40 minutes per day, four or five days a week to keep your heart healthy, your weight balanced and reduce your levels of stress, in itself a cause of ill health.

Secondly, he believes there are several ways to prevent illness or sudden decompensations of chronic illness. 

Take supplements like vitamins C or D3 and echinacea which help to boost your immune system. 

Get the flu and pneumonia injection if you have a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, asthma or similar respiratory condition.

Wash your hands often and carry a hand sanitiser as hand-to-mouth contact is a route through which common infections spread.

Thirdly, he recommends, as a first response, you visit your local pharmacist and family doctor. 

Your pharmacist can recommend treatments for cold, flu and flu-like conditions prevalent in winter and supplements to support your immune system. 

The pharmacist can also recommend an over-the- counter treatment, direct you to your family doctor or to the emergency room as appropriate.

The secret to successful modern healthcare is to primarily manage your condition outside of hospital with treatments that prevent hospital admission and maintain good health or help to avoid seasonal worsening of chronic conditions.

Finally, Dr Powell says, never delay getting to an accident and emergency department with very serious conditions like chest pain and stroke. 

However, there are options for less serious conditions that can avoid the long waits on trolleys, so always discuss with them with your doctor.

Every day over the last year, since the establishment of the new Emergency Department in Mater Private Hospital in Cork, family doctors ring him directly to make referral when it is appropriate to attend which helps to avoid delays.

* Emergency Department is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Dr Oisin Powell 021-601 3333; www.materprivate/cork



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