Conditions at University Hospital Limerick ‘not acceptable’ - HSE chief

Overcrowding continues as Limerick hospital postponed non-urgent surgeries for two days

Conditions at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) are “completely not acceptable”, the chief executive of the HSE Bernard Gloster has said, adding he is not satisfied that resources were being used in the best way.

UHL, which has suffered from severe overcrowding for the past decade, set a new trolley record last week, with 150 patients waiting for admission on Wednesday.

The University of Limerick hospital group, consisting of University Hospital Limerick, Ennis Hospital, St John’s Hospital Limerick and Croom orthopaedic clinic, postponed all non-emergency operations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The group blamed an “exceptionally high number of unwell medical patients” presenting at emergency departments for the surge. Since March 1st, 1,716 patients have presented at the emergency department, a daily average of 245 patients.


However, Mr Gloster said that he was confident for people to use services at UHL. “I don’t have any fear of the clinical care”, he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Mr Gloster said he lived in the area and his family attended the hospital. There had been a significant change in attendances at emergency departments in hospitals across the country in the first nine weeks of the year, he said.

The national figures was just under 13 per cent while in UHL it was 16 per cent. “Those kinds of numbers don’t mean anything to people when they’re waiting. But we have seen certainly, post-Christmas, a very significant change in attendances at hospital. That pushes us to look exactly at what we’re doing in our hospitals, but also outside in primary care and in the community. But certainly those types of numbers are not acceptable.”

There was a long way to go in rescheduling cancelled elective procedures. It was a balancing act between the high number of people attending emergency departments because they could not access GP care, he said.

“We know that a significant number of people in emergency departments are seen and treated very quickly. But I think it’s important just to reflect for one minute when we hear what the position in Limerick looks like, in the context of the rest of the country. Last night at 8 o’clock 171 people, were awaiting a bed on trolleys in our emergency departments across the country. 23 of those were in Limerick.

“So there is an important context. There were 59 people last night across the country on extra trolleys on inpatient wards, 38 of those were UHL. So that’s certainly a worry, but it’s a distributed risk. And then we use what’s called surge capacity. And the surge capacity in Limerick last night was in the region of 49. That’s the 49 that affects the elective.”

Mr Gloster said he accepted that UHL needed more beds. There were 96 coming in a block in the next year.

“A lot has happened in the 13 years since reconfiguration, and certainly while Limerick didn’t finish up with the beds that would have been expected at the time. The investment in community healthcare across the country has fundamentally changed also. So there is very significant investment in resources there. I’m not satisfied we’re using it all in the best way that we can. So Limerick needs more, but we also need to do different with what we have.”

When asked about the number of emergency medicine consultants at UHL, Mr Gloster said there was a “headcount” of 14 which was “about 11 whole-time equivalent”.

He acknowledged that Limerick had a “very low uptake” on consultant doctors under the new public-only consultant contracts. The emergency medicine consultants in Limerick work very hard and work very long hours, he said. But there were “serious challenges” at the weekends. “I would say to people, genuinely, I think it’s really important. There is a lot of really good work done by a lot of really good people in the hospital in Limerick, and I think it’s important that we keep in perspective and that we don’t make presumptions.

“I’m confident to say to people, if you need to go to hospital, you can go to that hospital, you should go to that hospital. I live in that area myself. My family go to that hospital. I don’t have any fear of the clinical care for people presenting at that hospital. I think it’s important to say that.”

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter