A decision to move some non-critical functions from University Hospital Galway to other hospitals in the region this month will free up beds in wards at the city hospital and help reduce waiting times and overcrowding at its emergency department.
That’s the opinion of Labour TD for Galway West Derek Nolan who met the clinical director of UHG Dr David O’Keeffe and Dr John O’Donnell, the registrar at the hospital’s emergency department on Tuesday to discuss lengthy waiting times at the ED.
Deputy Nolan sought the meeting after hearing about a number of worrying experiences from constituents about the state of the casualty service at the west’s biggest hospital.
Afterwards, he said processes which he believed would make a “real” difference short term also included the opening of a new 32 bed medical admissions unit - allowing for direct GP referrals from November - thus diverting patients from ED to the care they need immediately.
Deputy Nolan said earlier that recent research published in the British Medical Journal indicated that overcrowding and long waits in emergency rooms led to more patients dying or needing further hospital treatment. That study of more than 14 million patients in Canada found that reducing average waiting times by just one hour could dramatically increase survival rates.
He highlighted the length of waiting times and the conditions in which people must wait in A&E at this week’s meeting with hospital management.
“I made it clear that the actual quality of care once received in the ED and subsequent to being admitted to the hospital proper was not the issue. During the course of our meeting we had detailed discussions on problems and their possible solutions. The major challenges of which we were all aware, the crisis in State finances, funding cuts, staff restrictions along with the physical restrictions of the UHG site and the loss of bed capacity due to issues with the Fair Deal were all raised.
“Nevertheless we discussed processes that could make a real difference in the short term and before the end of year:
1. The need for the services within the HSE West hospital structure to be re-balanced. Such process would move some non-critical functions from Galway to other hospitals. A practical consequence for the ED in Galway would be increased access to beds in the wards, reducing waiting times and overcrowding. This process is to begin within the month.
2. A new 32 bed medical admissions unit, allowing for direct GP referrals, will open in November, thus diverting patients from ED to the care they need immediately.
3. The recently established acute surgical referrals unit will continue to provide similar support to that of the medical admissions unit.
4. In terms of waiting conditions, extra chairs are to be provided so as to increase seating capacity somewhat.
5. A target to reduce discharge times in the ED from the current level of 14 hours to six hours by the end of the year is in place.”
Deputy Nolan says he will raise a number of issues, including delays in discharging patients, caused by “difficulties in the national ambulance service”, with Health Minister Dr James Reilly this month.
“I will also discuss the effect of problems with the Fair Deal [Scheme] on transferring residential patients from hospital wards to more appropriate care facilities, the need for greater flexibility in the filling of vacant staff positions and the possibility of up-skilling and expanding the role of triage nurses (initial assessors of ED patients ) so that they can make more decisions about patients at an earlier time.”
The Labour TD says while the care patients receive at UHG is of a “very high” standard access and waiting times remain a “serious” problem.
“Having met with hospital management I am satisfied that some progress will be made, although in the financial constraints we face that will not be easy. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that improvement to ED will result from the steps discussed at my meeting with senior management and I look forward to working with them to securing a better health service for Galway and the west.”
Meanwhile Deputy Nolan came under fire this week from Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher.
The Cork TD said he was surprised to hear a Labour Party politician express concern about waiting times and patient care at UHG.
“Deputy Derek Nolan seems more concerned about media profile than actual progress on this issue by engaging the media instead of the Minister for Health. He has clearly forgotten already that Minister James Reilly has fired the expert board of the HSE and took personal charge of the management of the health service.
“Deputy Nolan has raised very serious and genuine concerns about patient care at University Hospital Galway but it is very surprising to hear the deputy on the airwaves talking about all the steps he’s taking, including meeting the clinical director at the hospital, to deal with the issue. Surely the deputy would be better taking this matter up with his Government colleague Minister Reilly.”
Deputy Kelleher stated Minister Reilly with “great fanfare” took personal control of the HSE six months ago and “dismissed the expert board members”.
“He is now accountable to the Dáil and all of his Government colleagues in Fine Gael and Labour for issues of mismanagement and concerns about patient care and safety.