A lengthy investigation into University Hospital Limerick (UHL) — previously known as the Mid-Western Regional Hospital — has attacked delays in medical care and branded conditions as unacceptable.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), which is charged with overseeing standards throughout the health service, said the overcrowded emergency department was “unfit for purpose” and was negatively impacting on the dignity of patients.
Phelim Quinn, director of regulation at Hiqa, said conditions were so unclean that sick visitors were being put at further risk of infections.
“Hiqa believes the conditions experienced by patients attending the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick are unacceptable,” he said.
Mr Quinn said poor standards were increasing the risk of healthcare associated infections, preventing patients getting care, compromising cleanliness and severely reducing the privacy and dignity of patients.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the report confirmed the “legitimacy” of concerns the union had articulated for the past decade to local management, even calling for a review of the emergency department in 2010.
IMO spokesperson for the Midwest, Mary Fogarty, said they remained “acutely concerned about the response of management, to specific clinical incidents which have occurred, in recent months” and that these needed to be addressed.
“The INMO is seeking an immediate meeting, with local and national management in the HSE, with a view to getting the Hiqa report recommendations implemented as soon as possible.
“SIPTU said its members working within the UL hospital group had also raised concerns and that it had now been “independently verified that the current facility is not fit for purpose”. SIPTU said the risks highlighted by Hiqa must be “addressed urgently”.
Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick, questioned how the shortcomings at UHL could be addressed with over €600m due to be cut this year from the health budget.
The review found serious delays and risks for patients and staff due to persistent overcrowding in the emergency department.
There were also delays in transferring patients from the emergency department to the intensive care unit and the high dependency unit, partly due to the bsence of a single clinical governance structure.
In addition, patient complaints were not being reviewed at senior management level.
In a statement, the HSE said management at the hospital had brought in a number of interim measures to improve overcrowding ahead of the new emergency department being built.
These include the opening of a short-stay unit, an acute medical unit and a surgical assessment unit.
New systems to monitor the numbers of patients on beds and trolleys, including daily reviews, had also been set up, according to the HSE.
Ann Doherty, chief executive of the UL Hospitals group which controls UHL, said she was “very aware” the emergency department was not acceptable for patients or staff.
“However we are in the middle of the construction of our new emergency department which is being built to 21st century standards and will be a vast improvement on our current emergency department ,” she said. The new unit is due for completion in 2016.
Ms Doherty said patients were turning up at UHL every day who could be treated for injuries at smaller hospitals at Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s in Limerick. Public information campaigns, she added, were planned over the summer to advise patients of the alternatives.
Hiqa said the findings must be reviewed by the ULH Hospitals group and the HSE nationally, given the reorganisation of acute hospital services across the country.