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Overcrowding at the region’s main hospital has not gone away despite the onset of a pandemic, a Barefield representative has flagged while up to 90 percent of patients have been waiting for over a year for scheduled care which is causing anxiety within the county. 

Acknowledging that COVID-19 has “taken over our lives for the past year,” Cllr Ann Norton (IND) questioned health officials to determine if all beds at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) were open to cater for the numbers going through the emergency department.

She queried if plans were in place for later in 2021 “when the winter programme comes in, are ye ready for the overcrowding, it hasn’t gone away and the reality is COVID has overshadowed it,” the Barefield representative outlined.

98 additional beds are open at UHL and are to be utilised, Chief Clinical Director of UL Hospitals Group, Prof Brian Lenehan detailed. “We have an escalation plan which is live 365 days of the year,” trolleys remain a feature of this, he said. “We work on it daily and it is a challenge, it is not our wish to have trolleys. Since March of last year, we have not had a single trolley on the wards of UHL, any trolleys reported on were in acute admission areas”.

Speaking at a briefing with Clare councillors, Chief Officer with Mid West Community Healthcare, Maria Bridgeman admitted, “there is no doubt that we had waiting lists ever before COVID. They’ve been added to now and we have to find a way of working past that”. She predicted the coming weeks would be “very telling” to determine if Easter, the return of schools and easing of restrictions has an impact on COVID-19 cases.

Attendances for unscheduled care at UHL dipped in early March and April of 2020 but quickly returned to “near normal levels” Prof Lenehan stated. He flagged that in the region of 90 percent of patients are waiting to be seen for a year or longer for scheduled care.

Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) also asked what plans were in place to deal with the backlogs for assessments and the cancellation of appointments which had caused a lot of anxiety among his constituents. The Shannon representative believed the HSE should consider providing health facilities for seriously ill persons that need support and increased access to medical cards.

“We are working to provide areas where services can be provided,” Bridgeman replied. She said that additional access to medical cards is dealt with nationally by PCRS.

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