Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) visited University Hospital Limerick (UHL) where he met with management, including Regional Executive Officer Sandra Broderick and the Health Service Executive (HSE) CEO Bernard Gloster. Photograph: Don Moloney

MINISTER FOR Health, Stephen Donnelly (FF) has said reconfiguration of health services in the Mid-West has not worked and said nurses and doctors at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) are “burnt out”.

Protesters from the Mid-West Hospital Campaign were present at UHL when Minister Donnelly conducted a visit to the region’s main hospital. He carried out an unannounced inspection on Wednesday night before visiting the facility again on Thursday where he met with senior officials.

Notably, CEO of UL Hospitals Group, Colette Cowan was not present when Minister Donnelly and the HSE’s CEO Bernard Gloster addressed the media in Dooradoyle.

UHL’s trolley crisis will not be alleviated until consultants become more visible on the floor of the hospital’s overwhelmed emergency department and engage with management on the Public Only Consultant Contract (POCC), the Health Minister said.

More support from senior clinical decision makers on site is needed for “burnt out” nurses and doctors, the Minister flagged.

Patient deaths has put UHL under increasing spotlight, Minister Donnelly admitted “the current situation here (at UHL) is not tolerable and not acceptable”. The Wicklow TD refused to comment “on any individual” when asked if he was confident in the management of UL Hospitals Group.

Details of an unpublished internal report into the death of Shannon man Martin Abbott left the Minister “very concerned”. He had been left dead on the floor of the UHL ED for over an hour before his body was noticed by staff. The report “catalogued a series of failures” in Mr Abbott’s care and “also called out the fact that solutions to overcrowding which have worked in other hospitals have yet to be seen here (in UHL)”. The Minister added, “What happened was not acceptable. It shouldn’t have happened”.

HSE boss Bernard Gloster added that “there are several families for whom there is upset and distress about their experiences of healthcare in this region”. He said he expected that an ongoing investigation by former Chief Justice Frank Clarke into the death of 16-year-old UHL patient Aoife Johnston, who waited for care for sepsis for 12 hours on a trolley before her death from bacterial meningitis, would be completed in May. “Regardless of any findings, we would never want those outcomes for people and we are exceptionally sorry that that has been their experience and that is what happened”.

On increasing capacity, Minister Donnelly said an additional 86 beds, including 16 rapid-build beds at UHL, 50 step-down beds in Nenagh, and 20 community healthcare beds in Clare, would be provided ahead of an expected winter surge of patients to try to help alleviate pressure on patients and staff. A 96-bed block presently under construction on the grounds of UHL is to open in 2025 and a second 96-bed block will also come on stream,.

“In order for this to work, we have to see reform in the hospital. Limerick has one the lowest uptakes of the new Public Only Consultant Contract, the level of weekend discharge is not where it needs to be,” he told reporters gathered at the hospital.

He acknowledged that many consultants are working night and day to help tackle patient flow, but said he expected more to be “rostered on site, in the emergency department and throughout the hospital, after hours and at weekends. I’ve been very clear with the management team that what I, and the government, and the people in the region, now need to see is a step change in the leadership from the senior clinical community in this hospital so that we can drive down the trolleys”.

Minister Donnelly pointed out, “UHL ranks nineth in the country for weekend discharges, that must improve, and there will be a progression to immediate rostering over six and where contractually possible seven days”. He said UHL remained a “significant outlier, as they have seen about the same increase in presentations, but rather than a fall in trolleys they have seen a 50 per cent increase”.

Representatives of the Mid-West Hospital Campaign (MWHC) made their presence known at UHL as they led the call for the reopening of emergency departments in Nenagh, Ennis, and St John’s hospitals, which were closed and reconfigured to UHL in 2009.

On this, Minister Donnelly admitted that reconfiguration had not worked as it was not properly resourced. “It was not done properly, what should have happened here (at UHL) is this kind of investment should have happened first, so that this hospital had the capacity it needed to take on all those extra patients. That didn’t happen and that’s what we are now rectifying”.

He referred to the advice from HSE Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Colm Henry “that it would not be safe for patients to open emergency departments in those hospitals”, advice which has been disputed by the Friends of Ennis Hospital, when asked if he would consider reopening emergency departments at Ennis or Nenagh.

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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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