Seven inpatient and 10 day case admissions were cancelled at University Hospital Galway as part of the regional hospital’s contingency plan to deal with the nurses’ strike, which was due to have taken place on Tuesday.
Up to 60 nurses working at the city hospital’s emergency department were to have taken part in the two hour industrial action from 2pm to 4pm.
The strikes, scheduled for seven hospitals nationwide, were deferred until January 12 after last-ditch talks been the HSE and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. The nurses are protesting at overcrowding and inadequate staffing.
Clare Treacy, the INMO’s industrial relations officer in the west, told this newspaper recently that emergency department nurses were frustrated at the ongoing compromising of patient care.
She stated these unacceptable working conditions are driving highly trained and experienced nurses out of the public system and into the arms of local private hospitals.
Her union said the nurses’ action, which was due to affect all of the country’s public emergency departments, was to be a direct response to nurses having had enough of broken promises.
Saolta University Health Care Group/University Hospital Galway confirmed earlier this week that a total of 17 inpatient and day case admissions had been cancelled due to Tuesday’s planned strike.
In a statement issued before the strike was deferred, it said its objective was to minimise, in so far as was possible, the impact of this industrial action on patients.
“As part of the contingency planning, we will need to defer some non-urgent elective (planned ) procedures scheduled for early next week. All patients affected will be contacted directly by the hospital.”
It reassured patients that a new date would be re-scheduled as soon as possible. It went on to stress that all essential treatment, like cancer care and kidney dialysis, would continue as normal.
It pointed out that replacing UHG’s emergency department, which is “recognised as no longer fit for purpose” is an “urgent requirement”.
“There is an approval process that has to be followed through the HSE’s National Capital Steering Committee and further work is being undertaken at a local level as part of that process. In the meantime, work is continuing on the development of an additional 30 extra inpatient spaces on the UHG site, close to the emergency department. It is expected that this accommodation will be in place shortly. These beds will provide much needed additional patient accommodation. Work is also continuing on the construction of a new 75-bed ward block to provide single room inpatient accommodation and this is expected to be completed in 18 months.”
“The Emergency Department at University Hospital Galway has and continues to be extremely busy with a sustained increase in the emergency admission rate throughout the year. We are working on an ongoing basis to manage and alleviate this situation. We are continuing to work on improving the patient flow through the hospital and ensuring that, when a patient’s acute treatment is complete, they are discharged from the hospital early in the day and at the weekend. We are working closely with our colleagues in community services so we can discharge patients to community beds, or home with the appropriate supports. We are also working closely with our colleagues in other hospitals in the group to ensure that, where appropriate, patients can be treated in those hospitals.”
Galway University Hospitals has approximately 700 beds and is a tertiary referral centre for the western region. Its emergency department has approximately 66,000 attendances annually.
The original ED was constructed in the 1950s, in the late 1990s it was upgraded as part of a bigger Phase 1 development at the site as an interim development. In an effort to improve operational flow in 2005/6 an internal reconfiguration was undertaken to create a “minors” area to enable streaming of patients and all non-core clinical accommodation was moved out of the department to create additional capacity.
Meanwhile the INMO said its decision to defer the strike is to allow members consider proposals which emerged following further re-engagement under the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC ). This consultation, and subsequent balloting, will take place over the next two/three weeks.
The planned strike action, scheduled for Tuesday, 12th and Tuesday, 26th January 2016, remain in place at this time.
Fianna Fáil General Election candidate for Galway West Cllr Mary Hoade called on the Health Minister this week to urgently address the ongoing capacity crisis at UHG.
“Despite the fact that the nurses’ strike was averted further industrial action is still looming in January and February and as a result of the cancellation of elective surgeries, waiting lists look set to rise.”
The Annaghdown based councillor stated she had seen firsthand the “deplorable conditions” that patients and staff in the emergency department have to deal with every day.
“It is truly shocking. Just over two weeks ago I, along with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Éamon Ó Cuív TD and General Election candidate John Connolly, visited the unit and met with nurses and patients and were appalled by the conditions. Children were lying on the floor, there were back to back trolleys along the corridors, and some older people were being treated in chairs. These are not acceptable conditions in a First World country.
“I am extremely worried about what will happen over the next few months when winter takes hold and traditionally we see more people admitted to hospital. The ED at UHG is already seriously over capacity and I have grave concerns that it will reach breaking point when more people begin arriving into the Department in January and February.”
She said the “meagre measures” announced by Minister Leo Varadkar to date have done nothing to allieviate the pressure on the local ED.
“There is no doubt that patient safety is at risk but nothing is being done. The Taoiseach himself has admitted that the Emergency Department is unfit for purpose, however he has no plans to improve it. There is no mention of UHG in the capital expenditure plan so it will be at least another five years before we see any investment in the hospital under this Government. This is nothing short of disgraceful.”
The local county councillor went on to say that the INMO is warning that more elective surgeries will have to be cancelled if the overcrowding crisis is to be effectively tackled, leading to increased waiting times for procedures.