Specialist team to tackle Limerick trolley crisis as hospital 'at highest level of escalation'

Minister intervenes directly in the HSE's running of Ireland's health service for the second time in a week
Specialist team to tackle Limerick trolley crisis as hospital 'at highest level of escalation'

Health minister Stephen Donnelly told HSE chief Paul Reid to send a "specialist team" in to University Hospital Limerick, saying he is very concerned about the waiting times at the hospital. File picture: Dan Linehan

A specialist team has been ordered into University Hospital Limerick by the Health Minister to try to tackle its record high trolley figures.

The move comes after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) revealed there were 126 patients waiting on trolleys at the hospital last Thursday, a record number since the union began tracking the figures in 2006. 

While the figure had fallen to 111 as of yesterday's INMO figures, a hospital spokesperson said that as of last night it is at its "highest level of escalation" and is cancelling “all but the most time-critical” procedures for today and tomorrow.

Earlier, the HSE said in a statement that "specialists in ED management are working on the ED improvement programme around the country and these will be working with Limerick Hospital management".

However, the Irish Examiner understands that Mr Donnelly insisted a specific team should go to Limerick after last week's trolley figures were revealed.

Mr Donnelly told HSE chief Paul Reid to send a "specialist team" to ensure that medical staff "have everything they need" as he said he is very concerned about the waiting times at the hospital. 

The team will now be tasked with improving "patient pathways" in the hospital, with a particular focus on the busiest times of admission.

"I've been in touch with the management in University Hospital Limerick about all of this and I spoke with the HSE yesterday," Mr Donnelly said:

I've asked them to provide an expert team to the hospital managers. 

"They're in the middle of a piece of work themselves, looking at their patient pathways but it's very important to me that the management and the clinicians in University Hospital Limerick get all of the support they could possibly need. 

"So I've asked Paul Reid to make sure that a specialist team can go in to make sure that the local teams have everything they need." 

A spokesperson for the hospital said it "acknowledges the comments" of Mr Donnelly and "we look forward to receiving full details on the expert team and its work in due course".

Hospital overcrowding has been a major issue across the hospital network for a number of years, in particular at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) and Cork University Hospital (CUH). 

According to the INMO's trolley count yesterday, as well as the 111 in UHL, there were 65 people on trolleys in Cork, 44 in Sligo University Hospital, and 38 in University Hospital Galway.

Mr Donnelly said his department is "putting in place a plan to look at emergency departments right around the country hospital by hospital" to ascertain what more can be done to cut down on admission times.

A lot of work is going on, but I do believe there are areas where we can do more — for example, having emergency medicine consultants on site more at the weekends and later into the evenings where necessary.


Noeleen Moran of the Midwest Hospital Campaign said that while Mr Donnelly's commitment in relation to UHL is broadly welcome, the core issue is the lack of services at Ennis and Nenagh hospitals.

"The Minister has called to the hospital before and nothing has happened," she said. 

"The issue is that Ennis and Nenagh must go back to Tier 3 hospitals and reopen their EDs. That's the only way to resolve this. Limerick can't retain staff because of the pressures which are on a constant basis. It's important people see what's happening, but something drastic needs to happen."

This is the second time Mr Donnelly has had to directly intervene in the HSE's running of health services this week. 

On Tuesday he acted after the Irish Examiner revealed that the HSE was refusing to facilitate a request from Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte for meetings with individual managers running children's disability services. Mr Donnelly has now told Mr Reid to ensure those meetings are facilitated.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health has now confirmed that the secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt and the chief medical officer Tony Holohan will attend the Oireachtas health committee next Wednesday to answer questions about the secondment of Dr Holohan to Trinity College Dublin.

Mr Donnelly's spokesperson said he has commissioned an independent external review and "he is happy to attend Committee when he receives the independent report he commissioned in a few weeks’ time".

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