Efforts ramped up to solve University Hospital Limerick trolley crisis after 'shocking' report 

Efforts ramped up to solve University Hospital Limerick trolley crisis after 'shocking' report 

University Hospital Limerick.

The Department of Health has had to ramp up its intervention into the University Hospital Limerick overcrowding crisis after a damning report outlined the chaos there.

In April, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly told HSE chief executive Paul Reid to send an expert advisory team to the struggling hospital. 

Now he has confirmed an even more powerful unit is to be deployed which, it is understood, has greater powers to take direct action on the hospital floor and advise managers directly.

Sources say the Department of Health was left shocked by the findings of a damning Hiqa report into patient conditions and waiting times at the hospital.

A source described the health watchdog's report, which was published last Friday, as “shocking”, saying: “When a report like that comes in, action has to be taken.” 

Hiqa inspectors found:

  • One patient spent 116 hours on a trolley waiting for a hospital bed, while another waited over 85 hours;
  • Nurse numbers were found to fall regularly short of what was needed;
  • The lead inspector said the service was "failing" despite the best efforts of staff.

The hospital has regularly had more than 100 people on trolleys at any one time in recent weeks.

Yesterday, minister Stephen Donnelly pledged to support the work of the new unit, saying “all necessary immediate resources will be committed to ensure safe and appropriate levels of care are restored in Limerick without delay.” 

The Performance Management Improvement Unit, as it is known, will be in Limerick for four to six weeks.

The unit was established under the 2020 accountability framework which allows for escalation of supports when a centre’s performance “places patients or service users at risk”.

There are four levels of escalation, and it is understood this unit is going into Limerick at Escalation Level 3.

It will target overcrowding and delays on trolleys which block patients’ movement from the emergency department to a hospital bed. The unit will also look outside the hospital at community intervention and programmes to help patients avoid admission where safe to do so.

They have been asked to urgently produce a detailed plan for ending problems highlighted in the Hiqa report.

The move follows a crunch meeting on Wednesday between the minister, department officials and the HSE which examined the pressures facing all 29 emergency departments in the country.

The meeting included the HSE expert team who have been working with UHL following Mr Donnelly's request, and whom the HSE said have also worked with Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Kerry.

Anne O’ Connor has now written to the UL Hospital Group CEO and chief officer of the Mid-West Community Healthcare, telling them she has mandated this unit to “engage urgently” with them.

The unit will provide intensive support around the areas targeted by Hiqa and is planning to address them as “ a matter of urgency”, a department spokeswoman said.

HSE chief operations officer Dr Anne O'Connor has written to the UL Hospital Group to say she has mandated the unit to 'engage urgently' with the HSE. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
HSE chief operations officer Dr Anne O'Connor has written to the UL Hospital Group to say she has mandated the unit to 'engage urgently' with the HSE. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

In a joint statement with UL Hospital Group, a HSE spokeswoman said hospital and community groups will be supported to “respond more effectively to the current pressures”.

She said this also follows a separate review carried out by the HSE during May and June.

UHL provides the only emergency care for thousands of people across Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary. 

UHL management have previously pointed to the rapidly growing numbers of patients coming to the hospital as a crisis-point. They said so far this year the ED has seen 20% more people than during the same time last year.

Attendances at medical assessment units, which treat less acutely ill people, in Ennis and Nenagh hospitals have increased by 17% this year, a spokesman said.

Chief clinical director at UL Hospital Group Professor Brian Lenehan previously said staffing shortages are being addressed, and that the number of beds in the hospital is not enough to meet demand.

“We apologise to all patients for the long waits and poor care environment being experienced in our emergency department,” he said following publication of the Hiqa report.

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