Nenagh General Hospital and St John’s Hospital in Limerick are to once again start accepting non-critical A&E patients in the coming days, Independent.ie has learned.
The move comes after more than 11,000 people marched in protest at the concentration of healthcare in the mid-west at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in recent weeks.
It’s understood that Nenagh will begin accepting non-critical accident and emergency cases from early February with St John’s following “some time thereafter”.
The move comes after a trial of the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) pathway in Ennis General Hospital from late last year, which saw suitable stable patients brought to the Co Clare hospital instead of going to UHL.
This was done to ease pressure at UHL, which had to declare a “major internal incident” in early January due to never-before-seen levels of overcrowding.
It’s understood the HSE and UL Hospitals Group have viewed the Ennis ambulance pathway trial as a success and will roll it out to the North Tipperary and Limerick City hospitals beginning this month.
It means that patients will be treated in hospitals closer to their homes with less pressure on the UHL system as a result. Only patients who meet certain clinical criteria can be brought to Ennis, Nenagh or St John’s and all others will still be brought to UHL.
The Ennis Medical Assessment Unit treats patients referred by their GPs, ShannonDoc or are brought in by ambulance. These pathways will also be open to Nenagh and St John’s.
UL Hospitals Group said they “expect to expand” the medical assessment unit pathway to Nenagh “shortly” and will issue a further update in the coming days.
"We are pleased with the progress of this initiative in Ennis to date and an evaluation of the new pathway, involving our MAU physicians and partners in the National Ambulance Service (NAS), has been completed.
“We expect to shortly expand this initiative to our Medical Assessment Unit at Nenagh Hospital and we will issue an update in the coming days,” a UL Hospital Group spokesperson said.
Independent.ie has also learned that St John’s is expected to open for the MAU pathway in the near future.
A protest held in Limerick last month over waiting times and concentration of services at UHL attracted thousands from across the region.
They were calling for an immediate reversal of the HSE reconfiguration of the Mid-west hospital system that left the region with just one 24/7 emergency department for a catchment of over 500,000 people.
Emergency departments in Nenagh, Ennis and St John's Hospitals have had their A&E departments either fully closed or curtailed for more than a decade, which has seen UHL inundated, resulting in patients often on trolleys for days before being admitted to a bed.
Green Party TD Brian Leddin told Independent.ie at the protest that he endured a 23-hour wait at UHL over Christmas and said that "this isn’t acceptable in any developed society”.
The Mid-west Hospital Campaign, which organised the protest, welcomed the move but said it would “only fully succeed if the government seriously increases capacity and human resources, both in Nenagh and St John’s hospitals.
“While this falls short of our ultimate campaign goal of Emergency Department restoration, we do welcome these first steps,” Conor Reidy of the Mid-West Hospital Campaign said.
A Nenagh-based GP said he was sceptical about the move to open Nenagh hospital to the MAU pathway and said it was “all about optics”. The GP, who did not wish to be named, said that Nenagh only has 14 MAU beds, of which two are permanently set aside for Deep Vein Thrombosis patients. There are only ten of these beds available on a Friday and six on weekends and bank holiday Mondays.
“Most GPs find it next to impossible to get a patient into Nenagh MAU even in normal times,” the GP said.