A clear contingency plan must be in place before 19 acute beds are temporarily closed at University Hospital Galway next month to facilitate the building of a 75 bed extension to the west’s biggest hospital.
That is according to Claire Treacy, the industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Galway.
As her union’s members in the hospital’s emergency department voted unanimously this week in favour of taking industrial action to highlight the overcrowding there, she said the beds at St Rita’s ward will close in February for 18 months.
She outlined while the building of the three storey extension [it will be located where the 17-bed St Rita’s ward currently stands] was “very, very welcome” nurses wanted extra beds to be put in place before the construction project begins.
“Hospital authorities have talked about opening some beds in Merlin Park - there are 14 in the hospital grounds that could be opened. But acute facilities are not in Merlin Park so it is only step down patients who could go there. We need the 14 beds to be open now to accommodate the overspill from the emergency department.”
She said nurses had sought a meeting with management. “We’ve asked hospital management to meet up with us. We want a commitment that the closure of St Rita’s ward will be deferred until appropriate plans are in place and a programme is set out to deal with the existing overcrowding situation.”
Her comments came as INMO members at the ED this week served management with three weeks official notice of industrial action in the form of a work-to-rule. It will begin on Tuesday February 3 and will mean that nurses will not perform any administrative, clerical or non-clinical tasks. They will only engage in their professional duties which involve providing clinical care to patients.
“This action is being taken as the situation in the emergency department continues to escalate, with patient care being compromised by excessive overcrowding, limited space, lack of beds and dangerously low staffing levels,” explained Ms Treacy. “The situation is further compounded by management’s plans to temporarily close 19 acute beds to facilitate a building project.”
“There needs to be a written plan, management needs to negotiate with us, otherwise there will be a work-to-rule. More beds need to be opened up in Merlin Park, that will give some relief. There were 30 patients on trolleys in the ED on Sunday. There are only nine cubicles there, that means there is only room for nine patients. A surgical day ward had to be opened up [to accommodate the overspill] which was unprecedented. It provided 10 beds.
“Local management are trying to do their best and I know their hands are tied. What is needed is for management to go to England and to launch an aggressive recruitment campaign for nurses. Galway is a very attractive place. We need nurses all over the hospital. Management has recruited in the last few months but only to fill positions created by those who left. The level of burnout in the ED department is increasing and nurses are leaving.”
Ms Treacy said nurses were taking industrial action in defence of patients, to highlight inadequate bed capacity and the fact that patients were being deprived of “timely care with dignity”.
“This action is in defence of patients, it is not industrial action in pursuit of pay. It is in pursuit of patient dignity and care.”
In a statement Saolta University Healthcare Group, which covers all acute hospitals in the west/northwest, said management in Galway University Hospitals remain committed to working with all stakeholders to address the challenges services face, particularly in ED departments.
“We met recently with the INMO and are working on a number of operational issues aimed at alleviating these concerns. GUH’s emergency department has approximately 64,000 attendances annually and faces similar challenges to peer hospitals in Ireland and we continue to focus on patient dignity and care.
“There are capacity issues and we are working hard to address ‘patient flow’ through the system. We have implemented various initiatives to improve the pathways of care on a whole systems basis, including a navigational hub and an early discharge programme. We are developing a pathway for frail elderly, and are accessing short stay beds in the community as well as intensive home care packages for our patients. We continue to work with Primary Community and Continuing Care on the implementation of the community intervention team to enable timely discharges from the acute setting.”
The statement outlined that bed closures were necessary to facilitate the construction of a 75 bed unit which will add extra bed capacity to help meet future demands on the hospital.
“It will also address infection control requirements as it is a single room accommodation development. The INMO acknowledge the space constraints under which the hospital works and deferring the construction of additional capacity is not a viable option.