Minister accused of ‘political stunt’ over review to determine need for second midwest ED

HSE says only a third of consultants at Limerick hospital are working on new contractual terms put in place last year

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has ordered a review of health services in the midwest region to determine whether a second emergency department (ED) is required.

However, he was come under fire for the timing of the announcement, with the Opposition contending the move represented “a political stunt” in advance of the forthcoming European and local elections and a vote for mayor in Limerick.

The HSE also said on Thursday that only about a third of the consultant staff at the main hospital in Limerick had signed up to the new contract introduced by the Minister last year.

Health service management this week maintained that provisions in the new contract have led to greater numbers of patients being discharged over weekends around the country, freeing up beds for others waiting in emergency departments.


The HSE said 84 specialist doctors out of a total of 236 in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) were now working under the new consultants’ contract.

The new review ordered by the Minister, to be led by the Health Information and Quality Authority, signals Government acceptance that the region lacks capacity to deal with emergency patients.

The provision of a second emergency department in addition to that at UHL would require the construction of a new model-three or four hospital or the upgrading of one of the smaller model-two hospitals in the region – Nenagh, Ennis and St John’s.

The day before the announcement of the review was made by the Minister, the secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt told an Oireachtas committee there were no plans to designate one of the other facilities in the region as a model-three facility.

He also said the possibility of the State taking over the private Barringtons hospital in Limerick was not being pursued.

Sources close to the Department of Health on Thursday denied there was any policy change in relation to Limerick hospital and said the Minister was seeking to review the situation 15 years after the closure of emergency departments in smaller hospitals in the region.

Some health service sources suggested that if the review was to conclude a new emergency department was needed, the development of a new hospital rather than the upgrading of existing smaller facilities may be more appropriate.

Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats on Thursday asked: “How is this only happening now? As recently as Wednesday, we were told that the ‘clinical advice’ that there isn’t a need for a second emergency department.”

“This latest development has all the signs of a political stunt. A second emergency department has been needed in the midwest for years. The UL Hospital Group is the only hospital group in the country without a model-three hospital. In fact, five hospital groups have at least three model-three hospitals.

Model-three and four hospitals are larger facilities with emergency departments whereas model-two hospitals do not have such facilities.

According to Mr Donnelly, the review will consider the case for a second ED in the region “in light of a big increase in the population in recent years and ongoing pressures” on the emergency department in Limerick.

Mr Donnelly said there had been record increases in investment in UHL during the lifetime of this Government.

“However, overcrowding at UHL’s emergency department continues with trolley numbers increasing by 39 per cent so far this year. This contrasts with the national trend, with the average morning trolley count falling by 11 per cent during the first four months of the year. Some hospitals continually have no patients on trolleys.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.