Senator doubts A&E could cope with major emergency crisis

A local senator has expressed concern about how University Hospital Galway’s A&E department would cope with any major medical emergency due to the increasing pressure on its services.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames wonders if a case of Ebola occurred here how would patients be isolated.

“This might sound sensational but imagine if there was an Ebola epidemic? Where would you isolate patients given the overcrowding conditions at UHG? It must have the capacity to isolate.”

She says she received three “really strong” emails recently highlighting the growing pressure on the west’s flagship hospital’s emergency department.

One was from a woman who attended the unit with a family member, a cancer patient, last week. The patient waited seven hours to get a bed.

In her letter to Senator Healy Eames the relation likened the situation to a “scene from a film of a catastrophe or a war zone”.

“There were patients on trolleys and chairs, if they could find them, some were standing. It was so bad that there were three ambulances parked outside, two [ambulance staff] were waiting in the waiting room with their trolleys, which were also full, one managed to get through the doors of the treatment room.

“I tried to get a drink of water but had to wait for staff to finish working in the small space between the chairs and trolleys. The staff were fantastic. They apologised continuously and were still smiling through it all - they have nothing to apologise for. They should all be handed a medal personally by the Minister for Health.”

She says she has been “haunted” by the scenes she witnessed. “I know there is a crisis in all hospitals but I believe a couple of simple and inexpensive measures could make a big difference to the patient comfort level and make it easier for the fantastic staff. Incidentally, if there had been a fire in A&E that day there would have been huge casualties. It is an accident waiting to happen and would be closed down for health and safety reasons if it existed as a work environment elsewhere.”

Senator Healy Eames says she will discuss the “crisis that is Galway University Hospital’s A&E department” with the Minister for Health shortly and examine potential solutions to “dignify patients and provide a safer working environment for hospital staff”.

She believes that unless Minister Varadkar reorients care to the community via strong responsive primary care centre practice “nothing will change”.

“It takes time to change behaviour. The public will not move from A&E until they are confident that they will get the attention they need there. In the short-term patients should be incentivised to use primary care centres instead of A&E for cases that can be treated locally.”

She says centres such as those in Doughiska and Athenry would take the pressure off UHG and ensure people received care in their own communities.

“The primary care centre in Athenry has quite a number of doctors, a practice nurse, speech therapist and physiotherapist as well as diagnostic equipment. The Minister must invest in the primary health care model. He must invest and incentivise in order to change people’s behaviour. Maybe there should be no cost for six months to make it really attractive for people to go to these centres rather than A&E. This system would take the pressure off A&E during working hours.

“In addition, cancer patients who are returning to hospital should be able to go straight to the oncology unit rather than going to the emergency department.”

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