At the HSE West forum’s annual meeting in Galway yesterday, John Hennessy allayed concerns the Limerick hospital — serving a catchment area of a population of 361,000 — would have its A&E closed at night, from July, due to the looming shortage of junior doctors.
At the meeting, members expressed their serious concerns and anger over the reports that patients looking to attend Limerick Hospital between 8pm and 8am would be diverted to hospitals in Galway and Cork from July 11.
Limerick-based Cllr Jerome Scanlon (FG) said reports had created “pandemonium” among the public. “The prospect of the unit closing at night-time is frightening and I want assurances it will not happen,” he said.
Cllr Gerry McLoughlin (Lab) warned the executive at the meeting: “Don’t play poker with people’s lives because you are going to lose.”
Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind) described the plan as “horrific”. The Galway councillor said: “Galway will not cope. It is simply not able because Galway is at creaking point — and I know that from professional and personal experience.”
Chairman of the HSE West, Cllr Padraig Conneely (FG) described the proposal to close Limerick’s A&E at night as “daft and unworkable”. He said: “It can’t happen. The A&E at Galway is bursting at the seams. Last Sunday, I met a family of an 80-year stroke patient who had spent 34 hours in the Galway A&E on a trolley and, along with him last Sunday morning in the A&E, there were 26 patients on trolleys.
Mr Conneely said the Galway A&E “is not working, is under performing and there needs to be a reality check about what is proposed. This is not happening.”
However, responding to the concerns, Mr Hennessy said he did not envisage the night-time closure of Limerick’s A&E. “It is not a realistic proposal and I don’t expect it to take place.”
Mr Hennessy said: “We are not playing poker with people’s lives. The business we’re in is too serious for that. There is no possibility of the A&E in Limerick closing at night.”
Mr Hennessy said, in the forthcoming rotation of junior doctors, Limerick is short 30 junior doctors out of 206 and that the hospital’s A&E unit is down seven junior doctors. He said: “The A&E unit is the most vulnerable.”
Mr Hennessy said across the HSE West region there were 81 or 10% of posts in the upcoming rotation for junior doctors that still required to be filled.
Limerick hospital’s A&E unit is staffed by 21 medical staff with 16 junior doctors and five consultants. He said it was seven posts short of junior doctors in the upcoming rotation, comprising of four senior house officers and three registrars. Mr Hennessy said if there was a shortage, the first option would be to move doctors from other areas of Limerick hospital to the frontline at the A&E. He said: “It is not a good thing or a solution that is popular, but our priority is to maintain frontline services.”