*Photograph: Brian Arthur

OPENING HOURS of the local injury unit at Ennis Hospital will not be extended to a 24/7 basis as previously agreed.

In May, Government officials accepted a private members motion tabled in Dáil Éireann by members of the Independent Group which includes Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND).

They sought the implementation of a range of measures aimed at reducing pressure on overcrowded Emergency Departments across the country such as expanding local injury units (LIU) at tier two hospitals such as Ennis, Nenagh and St John’s to twenty four hours across seven days a week.

During 2022, a total of 11,854 patients attended this service, representing a 25% increase on 2021. To date in 2023, 5,831 patients have attended the Injury Unit at Ennis Hospital.

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) told The Clare Echo that the plans to operate the LIUs will not proceed based on staff feedback. “The local injury unit is now working seven days a week and here in Ennis I saw patients being treated very quickly and professionally, I asked the healthcare professionals running the injury unit if they believed there was a case to move to 24/7, the point they made to me was very few people come in through the night to the injury unit, they were saying the resources and staffing that would be required to operate through the night, that clinical expertise and access to diagnostics would be better utilised during the opening hours they have making sure people get the best possible care.

“One thing they did emphasise to me and I would just to love say, here locally they believe there is people currently going to the emergency department in Limerick who could be successfully treated in the injury unit here in Ennis and one of the things I’m talking with the HSE here today is putting a communications campaign together so that everyone here in Clare knows what is appropriate for the local injury unit which I gather is probably more than we all may realise and what is appropriate for emergency care,” he added.

Rapid response is also part of solving the problems of overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick, Minister Donnelly stated. “If we are going to fix the problems in the emergency department in Limerick as we must and we are investing at record levels to do, we must also have rapid response and rapid access for people, one of the issues discussed was is there more investment in the helicopter service for the most serious of cases where people really need to get into the level four hospital as quickly as possible, can we deploy more rapid response vehicles from the ambulance service, we will look at this in terms of the emergency department, the local injury unit in Ennis but also the ambulance service and how quickly we can get people into the emergency department who need urgent care”.

Confirming that the private members motion which was agreed to, will not be followed, the Minister for Health commented, “The advice to me is that it would not be the best use of our health care professionals to have them there through the night seeing very few people, those same health care professionals were better off using during the day and indeed at incredible facilities like the primary care centre at the Station Rd”.

Deputy McNamara expressed his disappointment with Minister Donnelly’s comments and cited how the Health Minister and Junior Health Minister Mary Butler (FF) supported the motion over a month ago.

Clarity on the opening hours of the LIU was also sought by Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) at a meeting of the Regional Health Forum.

CEO of UL Hospitals Group, Colette Cowan outlined that it was open every day for minor injuries in adults and children aged five and upwards between 8am and 8pm. She said, “It is a lot of sports injuries, a lot of them wait till the next morning, if you went to Ennis in the morning you would see a lot of the injuries from the night before, the mixed messaging is causing problems, the commentary on units opening 24/7 are influencing behaviour, in Ennis alone 36 patients presented outside of opening hours in May and June which is off the charts”.

She continued, “the mixed messaging is causing concern, we have to keep the 8-8 story, all advocacy can pitch away but at the moment it is 8am to 8pm”.

Reports on the extended opening hours caused confusion, Cllr Murphy stated. “This is the stuff that drives councillors bananas, our Oireachtas members say what they want to see or get their headline inches”.

Cllr Mary Howard (FG) questioned how the confusion arose. Ms Cowan replied, “Overcrowding in UHL is a constant media headline, it is a pinch point, we are public servants, ye are public reps and we are all under pressure in some ways, it is causing a risk for us”.

Newly appointed Chair of the Regional Health Forum West, Cllr Donagh Killilea (FF) remarked, “A Chinese whisper is what they call it”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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