Plan to resolve Limerick hospital overcrowding expected 'over next two to three weeks'

The Oireachtas Health Committee heard the HSE Service Plan includes the opening of 308 beds funded last year which have not yet opened.
Plan to resolve Limerick hospital overcrowding expected 'over next two to three weeks'

HSE director of acute operations, Liam Woods, said that there is “phenomenal pressure” on University Hospital Limerick. File picture: Dan Linehan

The HSE is facing significant challenges tackling waiting lists due to the “horrendous impact” of Covid-19 despite increased funding, the Oireachtas Health Committee heard on Wednesday.

Senior officials also defended University Hospital Limerick, saying the hospital has “very real challenges” but work has started on this. CEO Paul Reid said this year’s national service plan gives €200m for waiting list initiatives, including working with private hospitals and changing how patients access some specialists.

“We have had quite a horrendous quarter, the first four months actually, of impacts on the hospital system through Covid, which did impact on many of the actions which we set out,” he said. He told Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan about waiting times of up to five years which the deputy highlighted are “not acceptable”.

He said this year’s plan is a start, saying: “This will not be solved, the legacy problem that we have, within one year of the service plan.”  Almost 900,000 people were on waiting lists at the latest count for different types of treatment.

The committee heard the HSE Service Plan includes the opening of 308 beds funded last year which have not yet opened. An additional 258 community beds are also expected.

Discussing planned elective hospitals in Cork, Galway, and Dublin with Fine Gael TD Sean Kyne and Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, he said preliminary business plans are with the Department of Health.

HSE director of acute operations, Liam Woods, confirmed construction will include facilities for in-patient care but the hospitals will only offer daycare on first opening. Mr Reid said only these electives are planned, and he could not comment on whether Limerick should also have one.

A team specialising in performance management has been sent to University Hospital Limerick to help tackle overcrowding, he said, and he does not think an external investigation is needed.

“They do have some real population density issues they have to manage, particularly how the group is constructed with one emergency department across the group,” he said. He denied that when he visits the hospital patients on trolleys are hidden to give him a better view of the situation.

Mr Woods told Senator Martin Conway there is “phenomenal pressure” on UHL. He expects UHL and the specialist team to produce a plan “over the next two to three weeks,”. 

Chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry defended the national reconfiguration policy “in general” which saw emergency departments closed in Ennis and Nenagh.

Social Democrats TD, Róisín Shortall, raised questions about why recruitment is so difficult and queried the increasing reliance on private agencies. HSE chief operations office Anne O’ Connor said: “Trying to retain the staff we have has to be about local ownership in terms of identification with your local unit.” 

She said the development of regional health areas (RHAs) under Slaintecare will give staff a greater sense that they are working for their local population.

Mr Reid told Fianna Fáil TD, John Lahart, that they are facing severe challenges in cybersecurity recruitment to address the impact of last year’s cyberattack, especially in finding people to take on two senior roles. They are in discussion with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on this. 

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