‘Unprecedented’ numbers attending A&E put pressure on staff, warns union

Record numbers attending UHG’s emergency department this week has put “unprecedented” pressure on services, according to a nursing union spokesperson. There were 34 people awaiting beds on Monday, 13 were on trolleys and 17 were inappropriately accommodated in wards on Tuesday while the figures for Wednesday were the same.

Clare Treacy, the industrial relations officer with the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation in Galway, says there is no particular reason for the hike in numbers.

“It is unprecedented and certainly the staff I spoke to have indicated that in 20 years working there they have never seen the department as it is. There are both unprecedented numbers attending the department and unprecedented delays. There is no specific cause and without question there are delays which is a serious concern for INMO members. There is huge pressure on nursing staff, even nursing administrators at night are having to work as staff nurses.”

Ms Treacy says medical and nursing experts have been commissioned to carry out a review into conditions at the ED as part of a Labour Relations Commission recommendation.

“This would need to be brought forward. We would be calling for it to be expedited. In fairness, management have commenced a recruitment process and they are at interview stage right now. Staff numbers are being increased from 10 to 14 during the daytime and from seven to 10 at night. This is in the process of happening and will make a difference. We would hope to see a significant improvement in the next few weeks.”

She claims “multiple problems” are contributing to the overcrowding situation at the emergency department. The fact that Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and Mayo General Hospital are “intermittently on by-pass” for ambulances means more patients are being sent to UHG.

“There are also patients from outside the catchment area attending who are referred by their GPs or are self-referring. None of these reasons on their own are significant but combined with delayed discharges - primarily older people or young people with multiple injuries following traffic accidents - means that numbers are increasing.”

She says the only solution is to increase bed capacity. “The national taskforce on EDs, headed by the Minister, has met and is continuing to meet. It is trying to do things like open additional beds - 173 are being opened up in Ireland altogether. Twenty-five of these will be in Ballinasloe and 10 in Merlin Park. But there are not staff for that.”

The nursing union official states that a minimum of 40 to 50 additional beds are needed “to be at break even”. “International practice says beds should not be occupied all the time. There should be an occupancy of 80 to 85 per cent. We are at 100 per cent occupancy. There is never an empty bed for half an hour in Galway.”

Cllr Padraig Conneely, the former chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum, says the overcrowding issue at the emergency department is an “ongoing concern”. “It is an issue that must be addressed. I believe delayed discharges is an issue. There are elderly patients who have nowhere else to go, they have not got a place in a nursing home.”

He believes more primary care centres are needed to take the pressure of EDs and to provide more care in the community.

Saolta University Healthcare Group outlined that the hospital was “working strenuously” to ensure access to beds. “Members of the public are reminded to keep the emergency department for emergencies and to contact their GP or GP out of hours services where possible. The hospital apologises to all patients and their families for any distress caused as a result of the delays. The hospital and Saolta University Health Care Group acknowledge the hard work, commitment and dedication of all staff at this time.

“Patients in the vicinity of Roscommon Hospital are reminded that the hospital’s minor injuries unit is open in the urgent care centre every day (including weekends ) from 8am to 8pm. The unit treats all minor injuries in adults, and in children of five years and over, including suspected broken bones (from knees to toes and from collar bone to finger tips ); sprains and strains; facial injuries; minor burns and scalds; minor chest and head injuries; and wounds, bites, cuts, grazes and scalp lacerations.”

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