Thursday 20 September 2018

Patients exposed to lethal superbug in crowded wards

Simon Harris pictured as he opened the emergency department at UHL in June. Photo: Brian Arthur
Simon Harris pictured as he opened the emergency department at UHL in June. Photo: Brian Arthur
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

More than 70 patients were exposed to a potentially dangerous superbug in the hospital worst affected by the trolley crisis this winter, it emerged yesterday.

An announced inspection of University Hospital Limerick (UHL) in September revealed "high risks" of infection, with a particular threat from the potentially lethal bug CPE.

The superbug has developed resistance against a group of strong antibiotics called carbapenems, drugs normally used to treat the most serious infections.

Some 38 patients carried the bacteria on their skin and it was detected in another 34 so far in 2017 - although in no reported case did it enter the patient's bloodstream.

However, a review is underway to find out if the bug caused the deaths of patients or was a contributory factor.

There were 30 patients on trolleys in the hospital yesterday morning. Overcrowding in Cork University Hospital was even more severe, with 41 people waiting for a bed.

The inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found the Limerick hospital had made a business case to the HSE for additional infection prevention and control nurses.

It also sought scientists and another pharmacist with expertise in antibiotics. But it was told by the HSE it did not have the funding for the posts.

Hiqa said on the day of the inspection 449 patients were in the hospital and 95 needed isolation in single rooms. But just 42 were isolated and 28 were in wards with patients who were not an infection risk.

The standard of cleaning of patient equipment and the environment needed improvement in both the haematology and cancer ward and the surgical area.

"Poor practice in relation to the cleaning and disposal of bedpans was also identified," the report stated.

An external review said another 50 to 60 beds were needed to cope with the influx of patients.

In response, a spokeswoman for the hospital said yesterday it was now proactive in screening patients for CPE.

This helped identify at-risk colonised patients and put control measures in place.

Improved technology allows staff to identify not only CPE carriers presenting at the hospital but also their contacts for appropriate management.

A second ward has been refurbished at a cost of €300,000 to improve isolation facilities, while a new 96-bed block is planned and is at the design stage.

An external review by a senior microbiologist from the UK into deaths of patients with CPE was under way.

The report noted the hospital managers were trying to recruit nurses from overseas.

A separate inspection of University Hospital Waterford found insufficient isolation facilities and poor hospital infrastructure.

Although there was a 7pc drop in patients on trolleys across the country last month, there were still more than 91,000 left waiting for a bed.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News