Keeping St Francis’ public nursing home open may be one of the keys to alleviating the overcrowding crisis at UHG’s emergency department, says a nursing union official.
The emergency department exceeded full capacity on Monday with 52 patients on trolleys - the biggest number ever. Conditions there were described this week as “almost unbearable” by Regina Durcan, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s industrial relations officer in the west.
She says long stay care facilities such as St Francis’ home in Newcastle - which is to close as a residential facility because the HSE says it would be too costly to upgrade it to meet new nursing home standards - should be funded and used to give much needed additional bed capacity to long stay patients. Currently, 42 patients who do not require acute care are being accommodated at UHG as they await a transfer to long stay facilities.
“Long stay facilities like St Francis’ have a role to play. There are 19 beds closed there because of the moratorium on staff recruitment and because there is no funding to address the facilities requested by HIQA [the HSE regulator]. There should be some intervention to keep its doors open.”
Warning that overcrowding at UHG’s emergency department was compromising patient safety, Ms Durcan said the current situation was a “disaster”.
“The INMO is appalled at the ongoing level of overcrowding at UHG. On Tuesday there were 52 patients on trolleys awaiting an in-patient bed, 34 in the ED, 12 in the medical assessment unit, and six patients were being nursed on trolleys on wards throughout the hospital. The situation is getting worse, this is the worst it’s been, there have never been 52 patients on trolleys before in Galway.
“The overcrowding continues despite the fact that the full capacity protocol was invoked in an effort to relieve the situation.
“There are currently 42 patients fit for discharge in UHG. They don’t require acute care and are waiting for a transfer to long stay facilities in the Galway region. That delay has been enhanced in the last couple of weeks. There are 25 beds closed in UHG and 91 closed in Merlin Park.”
She is urging the Minister for Health to intervene in this “crisis” and open up the 116 closed beds and provide adequate staffing in order to alleviate the “intolerable” overcrowding at the regional hospital.
Local Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh says it is clear the overcrowding problem has surpassed “crisis point” and there is a need now for radical action.
“The basic markers of hospital performance as measured by successive HealthStat reports have been continually worsening and it is clear that bit-part solutions are simply not working. There appears to be a disconnect between HSE management and the reality of the frontline that requires radical overhaul in order for UHG to be the centre of excellence that it has the potential to become.
“I have submitted proposals to the Minister for Health that would see the hospital being removed from the responsibility of the HSE and established as a frontrunner for the new funding and management model promised by the Government. A new management team would report directly to the Minister for Health. It would be an ideal pilot for the ‘money follows the patient’ model because if it can work for the worst-performing acute hospital in the country it can work anywhere.”
Cllr Padraig Conneely, the chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum, agrees the hospital should be removed from the health authority.
“UHG is one of the seven major acute teaching hospitals in the country and it could be the first stand-alone project under the FairCare policy [FG’s plan to reform the health service] where the money follows the patient.”
He claims there are “serious management issues” at UHG. He says a chief executive is due to be appointed to UHG shortly and this could be the first step in a “major shake-up” for the city hospital. Commenting on the high numbers of patients on trolleys earlier this week the HSE West said UHG was “extremely busy” on Tuesday.
“ In order to safely manage patients waiting in the emergency department for admission and have facilities available for emergencies that may have presented during the day the hospital implemented its Full Capacity Protocol on Monday and it remained in place on Tuesday.
“This means that a number of patients were transferred to the 12 wards in the hospital where they were monitored until a bed became available - an average of one to two additional patients on each of the wards. UHG regrets that any patient has to wait for long periods for admission and made every effort to ensure that patients were admitted to beds as appropriate across the hospital.”