Cleaning 'impossible' at hospital emergency department
OVERCROWDING at a major hospital emergency department has made it impossible to clean and is threatening the safety of up to 60,000 patients every year, a damning report has found.
The State's health watchdog has slammed conditions at University Hospital Limerick - previously known as the Mid-Western Regional Hospital - as unacceptable.
Patients are stripped of their dignity, put at heightened risk of infection and are openly treated on trolleys in public areas of the hospital in Dooradoyle, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) investigation uncovered.
Phelim Quinn, director of regulation at Hiqa, has warned managers to immediately bring in interim measures to deal with the substandard conditions.
"Hiqa believes the conditions experienced by patients attending the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick are unacceptable," he said.
"The department was overcrowded and not fit for purpose."
University Hospital Limerick is the main hospital for the population in Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary.
The emergency department deals with 60,000 patients a year.
During the long-running investigation, Hiqa found up to 37 patients waiting on trolleys at any one time during inspections which were tipped off to medics in advance.
Such is the overcrowding, doctors and nurses found it hard just to move around the emergency department with the sick being treated in open areas because there were no private bays available.
"Ill patients were placed close together with little or no privacy or dignity," the report states.
It was also "impossible" to properly clean the area because there were so many trolleys on corridors and open areas, it found.
Furthermore, patients known to have infections which were threatening the health of others around them could not be moved to an isolation area as there is none.
One critically ill patient who needed a bed in the high dependency unit was forced to wait in the overcrowded emergency department until their grave condition improved.
"This practice is unacceptable," the Hiqa report warns.
A new emergency department is being built at the hospital but is not expected to be open before 2016.
The watchdog said management and the Health Service Executive (HSE) urgently need to find a range of interim solutions to the conditions which are posing a serious risk to patients at the hospital.
"Other risks identified within the emergency department were delays in the admission of children to wards, while being accommodated in adult surroundings," added Mr Quinn.
"This was despite the fact that a new children's area had been developed but remained unopened."
There were further delays in transferring patients from the emergency department to the intensive care or high dependency units.
However, Hiqa said there was a clear willingness to change and improve conditions at the hospital.
"The momentum witnessed locally must now continue and be supported by the HSE nationally in order to ensure patients in the region continue to receive safer, better care," said Mr Quinn.