Senior consultant says numbers of patients presenting at Emergency Department are ‘incredible’ and more beds are urgently required.
On Wednesday afternoon, a statement was issued from the Ireland East Hospital group, telling of how Wexford General Hospital was “extremely busy” and advising of “significant delays and long waiting times”. A generic statement used whenever the hospital is under major pressure, it did not tell the full story of what was transpiring in the Emergency Department in Wexford on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Those who were present described “chaotic” scenes. One said it was “like a warzone”, while another described scenes of hospital porters asking those waiting if they really needed their wheelchairs as there wasn’t enough to go around, with not a single trolley available.
"It was completely overrun,” one eyewitness said. “The nurse told me that there wasn’t a single trolley available, let alone a bed. People were being warned of at least a 12-hour wait to be seen. It was a shambles.”
Although the advice from the stressed and overstretched staff stopped short of telling people to just go home, it was made abundantly clear to many in the waiting room that if they chose to stay, they would be facing 12 hours in a hard chair and this estimate later stretched to 16 hours.
In the packed Emergency Department, one hospital worker remarked that it was the worst situation that they had seen. There were some mutterings of blame towards GPs and the practice of “just sending people to A&E for a second opinion” and in the statement issued by the Ireland East Hospital Group, hospital management did urge people to “consider all car options including GP, GP out of hours and pharmacy services”.
However, overall the statement failed to capture the level of what transpired at Wexford’s Emergency Department earlier this week, stating that “like all hospitals across the country...the Emergency Department is extremely busy”.
It continued that this was due to patients being admitted with both Covid and non-Covid illnesses. At 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, Wexford General recorded 22 confirmed cases of the virus on site.
A senior consultant at the hospital said that the problem is simply down to numbers.
"The number of patients we’re seeing is incredible,” he said. “We’re seeing a rise of up to 20% on pre-pandemic levels. Also in Wexford, we see a sharp increase in the numbers in the summer months as people arrive on holidays etc.
"It’s the sheer volume of patients that we're struggling with, but then every hospital is like that at the moment.”
While Covid is nowhere near the issue it was at its peak, its influence is still being clearly felt and staff shortages as a result of isolation and illness are adding to the problems.
"We would’ve had a number of staff off sick with Covid etc as well,” the consultant said. “Even if they’re feeling well, they can't risk treating patients that are unwell. This combined with the increase in patient numbers is a terrible combination.”
With summer now having finally arrived, there are concerns that once primary schools finish and more families make the journey to Wexford for their summer break, that things will get worse before they get better.
"I don’t know,” the consultant said. “We will have an increase in the number of patients arriving and many of them will just have minor injuries and ailments. We’re just really struggling with the numbers as it is.
"We’re losing a lot of GPs at the moment too which adds to the pressures we’re seeing at ED. People can’t access their GP and they can’t get Caredoc, so they’re left with only one option for treatment.
"There used to be a perception that Wexford was a small Emergency Department. We are a big ED now, seeing upwards of 40,000 patients a year.”
While some 15 years ago, a busy day at ED was 80 or 90 patients in a day, nowadays doctors and nurses there can see up to 190.
"Quite simply, we need more acute beds,” the consultant said. “I know plans are in place for a new wing etc, but, at the moment, the hospital doesn’t have enough beds.”
While members of the public are still being urged to consider all other possible care options before arriving at the Emergency Department, hospital management have stressed that they should not delay in getting to the hospital in the event of suspected heart attack, stroke or any other serious medical issue and should immediately call 999 or 112.