Almost 240 patients died in UHL emergency department over past five years

Figures emerge amid increased scrutiny of hospital’s safety record following Aoife Johnston case

Aoife Johnston (16), who died at University Hospital Limerick on December 19th, 2022.

Almost 240 patients died while waiting on a trolley in the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick (UHL) over the past five years, new figures show.

The figures, which were presented at a meeting of the monthly regional health forum, have emerged amid increasing scrutiny on the hospital due to significant overcrowding, staff shortages and fears of potential risk to patients.

A total of 239 patients died on trolleys in the emergency department (ED) between 2019 and 2023. The highest annual number of deaths was in 2019 when 58 patients died, with the number decreasing to 41 last year.

In her response, Colette Cowan, chief executive of the UHL group, said the figures would also include patients admitted to hospital for whom a bed has been booked but who remained in the ED at the time of their passing.


“It does not include patients who have unfortunately passed away by the time they have arrived in ED or critically injured or critically unwell patients who are brought directly to resuscitation following an accident or sudden illness,” she said.

Ms Cowan said the majority of the patients – 90 per cent – were triaged as the highest category, indicating a life-threatening illness or patients who are at end-of-life.

“A single room pathway is in place in the ED for patients who are seriously ill or dying to expedite admission to the main hospital,” she said.

Figures were also provided for other hospitals in the region, with 150 patients dying in Sligo University Hospital’s ED during this time period, while 195 patients died in the ED at Galway University hospital.

However, the hospitals said it was not possible to state whether patients were on trolleys or in a treatment bay at the time of their deaths.

The figures came in response to a question from Clare councillor Cillian Murphy who said it was important to “get a better understanding of the wider context with what’s happening in UHL”.

“We here in the midwest tend to be very narrowly focused on the outcomes at UHL, and unless we see them relative to the wider context across a range of other hospitals we really don’t know and can’t say what the situation actually is,” he said.

“It’s easy to focus on the headline figure that shows UHL has 22 per cent more fatalities than the next model 4 in Galway, but the figures also show a drop of 29 per cent in these cases since 2019. So work is obviously happening to address this, and that needs to be acknowledged and referenced also.”

Cllr Murphy said each of the cases is a “terribly sad and traumatic experience for families and friends” and changes should be made to “ensure these events are reduced as much as possible”.

UHL has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after an inquest into the death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston returned a verdict of medical misadventure.

Following the inquest, a support team was established to address the current pressures on health services in the midwest region, particularly the overcrowding in UHL.

A number of days later, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced a review was being conducted to ascertain whether a second ED was required in the region, due to “ongoing pressures” at UHL.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times