100 people on trolleys in Limerick as doctor exodus fears will worsen crisis

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As the country faces record trolley numbers, with 100 patients without beds at Limerick University Hospital yesterday alone, there are fears the health crisis could worsen as many doctors consider leaving the country.

Dr Niamh Humphries, senior lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland’s Graduate School of Healthcare Management, told the Oireachtas Health Committee the country should be ‘afraid’ of high levels of doctor emigration after Covid , due to poor working conditions.

She said 391 doctors applied for Australian work permits last year and there was no guarantee they would return.

She warned it will get worse when the pandemic ends, as Irish-trained doctors are in high demand overseas.

Dr. Humphries conducted research which found that conditions improved temporarily when additional staff were deployed to crisis points.

A doctor’s response to his inquiry was: ‘And suddenly we had a working healthcare system… now that Covid is ‘over’ which obviously it isn’t, we’re back to the crisis… and everyone is tired and burnt out again.”

Dr Humphries told the committee the number of vacancies was “terrifying” and said hospitals were “running on an interim basis”.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said: “These doctors are not returning to Ireland, leaving our patients without access to the care they need.”

The IHCA, along with the Irish Medical Organisation, are in negotiations with the government over a new contract, but the committee heard from doctors who felt the proposed contract did not address the challenges they face on the front line .

The warnings come as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization demanded direct ministerial intervention to tackle the trolley crisis.

INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said his union again called on Hiqa to urgently investigate the problem of overcrowding in the UHL and make recommendations.

INMO Secretary General Phil Ni Sheaghdha. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Last night University Hospital Limerick announced a postponement of almost all elective activities as it tries to manage ‘a sustained increase in emergency presentations and a significant increase in Covid-19 activity’.

According to the HSE, there were no general beds available at Limerick Hospital, a situation replicated at 14 other hospitals yesterday.

There were two beds available in the intensive care unit at UHL where six Covid-19 patients were being treated.

A UHL spokesperson said the hospital has “reached its highest level of escalation, which means emergency and urgent care for the sickest patients is prioritized.”

Outpatient appointments, elective surgeries and diagnostic investigations have been “postponed until further notice” and “affected patients will be contacted as soon as possible to reschedule their appointments and procedures,” he said. .

A visiting ban remains in place at UHL which was treating 89 Covid-positive patients, but one-person-per-patient visits were facilitated for parents visiting children; for people assisting confused patients; and for people visiting for humanitarian reasons; for example, for critically ill or end-of-life patients.

Other hospital services in the area remained ‘largely unaffected’ and scheduled care operated as normal at Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospital, Limerick University Maternity Hospital, Croom Orthopedic Hospital and at St John’s Hospital.

While the region’s only 24-hour emergency department, based at UHL, remained open for emergency cases and emergency and trauma surgery, Limerick Hospital urged people “to first consider the care options available in their own communities, including family doctors, out-of-hours GP services, local pharmacies and local injury clinics”.

We still have a limited number of care appointments scheduled, including: cancer services; dialysis; breast radiology; cardiology; clinical age assessment unit; rapid access medical unit; nurse-led outpatient clinic; dermatology outpatients; bronchoscopy outpatients; OPAT (outpatient therapy); fracture clinic; pediatric outpatient clinics; endoscopy.

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