Wexford hospital overflow causing chaos at University Hospital Waterford – ‘We’ve never seen anything like the volume of ambulances coming here’

Hospital Manager Grace Rothwell says UHW staff are ‘absolutely flogged’ as they deal with hugely increased numbers following the fire at Wexford General Hospital, as well as a Covid outbreak.

University Hospital Waterford.

By Pádraig ByrneWexford People

University Hospital Waterford is struggling to cope with increased numbers of patients arriving as a result of the Emergency Department (ED) at Wexford General Hospital being closed following the devastating fire there three weeks ago.

Hospital Manager at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) Grace Rothwell says that they are seeing an unprecedented increase in presentations at the ED and admissions via ambulance as the Waterford hospital is forced to take up some of the slack caused by the closure of Wexford’s ED.

As if things weren’t bad enough, UHW staff are also battling to contain a Covid-19 outbreak on three wards, with 17 Covid-positive patients now on site and a visitor ban in place.

"We had 252 attendances at the ED yesterday,” Ms Rothwell told WLR. "We are well over compliment at the minute. We’re plus 57 patients this morning. Yesterday that was plus 75.

"What has happened is our ED attendances are up 30-35% and our ambulance admissions are up 60% and this is all as a direct result of the closure of the Emergency Department following the fire in Wexford General Hospital."

With ambulances now constantly travelling between south Wexford and Waterford with patients since the fire, UHW staff are struggling to find places to put all these patients.

“We’ve never seen anything like the volume of ambulances that have been coming here,” Ms Rothwell said. “One day alone we had 60 ambulances. It’s unheard of. Work that out by the hour. Our colleagues in NAS have been superb and are looking at that and trying to re-route some of those ambulances for us. We’ve gotten into a flow now of getting some patients back to Wexford every day.

"Tuesday night we had 41 admissions overnight. That is the worst I have ever experienced here. As a result, we did have up to 22 corridor beds in situ yesterday.

"All of our surge capacity is in use. Our day ward is in full of inpatients. Our orthopaedic block has inpatients, our surge capacity has inpatients. We don’t like doing it, but we don’t want to leave people down in the Emergency Department. The minute we do that, we won’t have space for any patients coming in.

"The wards are under big pressure. The Emergency Department is under big pressure with volume, diagnostics is under big pressure, every discipline is under pressure”

Understandably, the crisis of the past three weeks is beginning to take its toll on staff.

"To say that staff have been absolutely flogged would be an understatement,” Ms Rothwell said. “But they are just fantastic and people have really put their shoulder to the wheel. They’re getting tired now and we need to try and get some things moving to assist.”

On that point, Ms Rothwell says that discussions are ongoing at national level in terms of how best to alleviate the situation while Wexford’s ED remains out of action.

“Ultimately this situation is not going to go away and it's not going to be resolved for what I understand will be a few months. Therefore we’re going to need to come up with more solutions,” she said.

While some staff have been making the journey from Wexford to Waterford to assist, Ms Rothwell feels like more are needed.

"They’re a different hospital group, so I’m not privy to all the discussions,” she said. “We have had some staff come from Wexford, but absolutely we would welcome more. Particularly for paediatrics, the ED and we’re now looking to open a vacant ward up in Kilcreane and we’re hopeful that the Ireland East Hospital Group will be able to provide some extra nursing and social care professionals to help with opening up that additional capacity.”

In the meantime, people are warned to expect lengthy wait times when presenting at A&E.

"Patients and their families have to understand that, at the end of the day, there are still only 13 cubicles in the ED here,” Ms Rothwell said. “That hasn’t doubled in capacity, it hasn’t increased by a third. Unfortunately people will have to wait and there will be long wait times.”

However, she concludes that she and her staff at UHW remain committed to doing their very best to help the people of Wexford in their hour of need.

"It’s very unfortunate and very sad what happened in Wexford,” she said. “Obviously we’re relieved that it didn’t happen to us here. We have to appreciate that fact as well. But we’ll continue to do our absolute best and put forward our own proposals and let’s see where we go.”