Tuesday 23 July 2019

A record to forget for Sligo hospital

Paul Deering

Sligo University Hospital created a record in 2018 but it's one the HSE will want to forget.

The INMO has just released shock figures that show some 4,183 people were left on trolleys in the Emergency Department or other wards at the hospital last year, up frm 2,406 in 2017 and up massively since 2006 where the number was 784.

The figure in 2016 was 2,308 and 2,478 in 2015 and 2,017 in 2014.

Every morning at 8am, INMO members count how many patients are waiting in the Emergency Department for a bed and how many in wards elsewhere. The INMO Trolley Watch counts the number of patients who have been admitted to acute hospitals, but who are waiting for a free bed.

These patients are often being treated on trolleys in corridors, but they may also be on chairs, in waiting rooms, or simply wherever there's space. The INMO started Trolley Watch in 2004.

The December figures for Sligo University Hospital show there were 286 patients on trolleys, down from 305 in 2017 but up from 172 in 2016. The number for 2015 was 212 with 172 in 2014.

The worst-hit hospitals included:

• Limerick University Hospital - 11,437

• Cork University Hospital - 9,135

• Galway University Hospital - 7,452

• Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore - 5,831

• Tallaght University Hospital - 5,432

Smaller hospitals also saw record overcrowding. South Tipp General Hospital, for example, had 5,201 patients on trolleys in 2018.

But Sligo's figure of 4, 183 in 2018 was higher than the yearly totals of big Dublin hospitals such as Beaumont (2,968); St Vincent's (3,773); St James's (2,025) and Connolly (3,569). The INMO blames the crisis on low capacity and understaffing. The organisation has asked the government to work with the INMO to develop proposals that will resolve the recruitment and retention crisis in nursing.

Some 95% of INMO nurses and midwives have voted in favour of industrial action. The INMO Executive will met on Monday and also today (Tuesday) this week to set dates for strikes. The Executive will determine dates for a 24-hour national strike, which would see INMO members withdraw their labour, providing only emergency and lifesaving care. This would be only the second time in the INMO's hundred-year history that its members have taken national strike Nurses and midwives last engaged in strike action in 1999.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said:"Despite the government spin, 2018 was the worst year on record for overcrowding. Negative records were set throughout the year, with over 100,000 admitted patients forced to wait on trolleys and chairs, without a proper bed. We know that this dramatically worsens outcomes for our patients.

"The health service does not have enough beds to support our population. More beds means more nurses, but the HSE simply can't hire enough on these wages. It's beyond time for the government to engage proactively with the INMO to resolve the crisis in Irish nursing and midwifery.

"Patients should be focused on recovering, but instead have to worry about waiting times, understaffing and a lack of beds. 2019 must see real changes in policy and funding to resolve this once and for all."

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he was encouraged by what he called a 'significant reduction' in the number of patients on trolleys, but added that there would be difficult weeks ahead.

In response, SAOLTA, the hospital group which Sligo University Hospital belongs to said in a statement: “The number of patients attending Emergency Departments in Ireland continues to increase year on year with 1.2 million attendances, an increase of 42,000 on 2017.

“While the majority of patients who attend Emergency Departments receive treatment and are discharged home, 25-30% of patients need to be admitted for further treatment. By the end of November, 315,000 patients had been admitted from ED, 8,400 more than in 2017.

“In 2018, 39,141 patients presented to the ED at Sligo University Hospital representing a 3.9% (+1,465 patients) increase compared to 2017.

“The number of admitted patients through ED also rose by 4.3% resulting in increased demand for beds.

“The number of patients aged 75 and over presenting to ED and who need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, has been rising year on year.

“This reflects the increase in our older population and with advances in medicine and healthcare, people are living longer. Typically older patients will have more complex care requirements, are more likely to need to be admitted to hospital for treatment and will also have a longer length of stay in hospital.

“In order to address increasing demands on hospital services, a Discharge Lounge has been set up with the aim to improve wait times for admitted patients waiting a hospital bed.

“The hospital has also submitted a plan to develop 46 additional medical beds to cater for the increasing demand for hospital beds, evident by the increase in trolley numbers in 2018.

“A national decision is awaited. The hospital is also actively engaged with Community Health Services to enhance the care provided for older people in the hospital, community and at home in an effort to avoid hospital admission where possible or allow for reduced lengths of stay.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “The Government, the HSE, people working right across our health services are working as hard as they possibly can. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that in terms of the work of people in our hospitals.

“Of course there’s far too many on hospital trolleys. Of course we need to do everything we possibly can to help patient flow. But let’s remember what’s happening in the health service today... people are coming into hospital. They’re often very sick with flu.

“It takes longer perhaps to find them an appropriate isolation space in the hospital therefore they’re detained within the emergency department for longer and that obviously impacts on the flow of other patients.”

Sligo Champion