The suitability of using ambulances to transfer patients from the standalone acute mental health (AMHU) unit to the nearby emergency department (ED) in the main hospital has been repeatedly criticised by staff working in the unit.
Siptu shop steward, Des McSweeney, a mental health nurse working in the 50-bed unit, has written to both Health Minister Simon Harris and Mental Health Minister Helen McEntee highlighting the issue.
Mr McSweeney said as well as “tying up a resource that is required for emergencies in the community”, patients deemed emergency cases are sometimes left waiting too long for an ambulance to arrive.
An inquest held this week heard a woman admitted to the AMHU after taking an overdose waited 41 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Fermoy to transport her 800m across campus. Marian O’Reilly died the next day, March 6, 2016. Although the inquest heard the ambulance delay was not a factor in her death, her husband, Henry, said his decision not to bring her straight to the ED has haunted him.
“I am constantly wracked by guilt as I feel if I had gone to the ED, she would be alive now,” he said.
Eamonn Maloney, clinical director of the AMHU, told the inquest that emergency transfers between the unit and the ED are rare, occurring about three times a year. However, the callout log shows that, of the 33 callouts made last year, 21 were emergency calls. Of these, two were subsequently cancelled and, in one case, the patient made their own way to the ED.
Dr Maloney, a consultant psychiatrist, also told the inquest the patient transfer policy has been revised since Ms O’Reilly’s death to allow transfers using a hospital gurney or trolley. This is in the event of ambulance delays. A copy of the protocol at the inquest bears this out.
However, the same protocol was supplied this week to the Irish Examiner under FOI with no mention of trolley use. Mr McSweeney said he is not aware of a revised policy and that the only trolley on the unit is not suitable for transporting patients across the sloping campus — covered in speed ramps.
Siptu health divisions’ Sharon Cregan, who represents Siptu staff in the unit, said the location of the AMHU “is an issue”.
“You can’t always free up nurses or security personnel to accompany the patient and this is something we are trying to deal with locally and nationally,” she said.