University Hospital Limerick overcrowding crisis seems largely ignored by Government, writes Limerick Voice’s Thomas Lawrence

The 2024 Budget has not addressed the need for additional public hospital beds, which Limerick desperately needs in Lawrence’s opinion.

University Hospital Limerick (UHL) treated 2,043 patients on trolleys during the month of October out of a total 10,538 patients nationwide. This makes UHL, once again and by far, the most overcrowded hospital in Ireland as they have treated almost double the patients of the next most overcrowded hospital, Cork University Hospital, who treated 1,034 patients on trolleys throughout October.

19.4 per cent of all patients treated on trolleys in October were treated in UHL. On October 23, last month, UHL became the most overcrowded hospital ever recorded by INMO’s Trolley Watch as 130 patients were treated on trolleys in a single day. 

For context, the Limerick Leader reported that 1,268 patients were treated on trolleys in UHL in the entirety of October 2022. A single record-breaking day this year represents just over 10 per cent of the number of patients treated on trolleys during October of last year.

University Hospital Limerick, who face the largest overcrowding crisis in the country, are only expected to receive a 96-bed ward block in mid-2025 when it will become operational.

INMO feels safety of staff and patients ‘not a priority’ for Government

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Assistant Director for Industrial Relations for the Midwest, Mary Fogarty, said that UHL’s record-breaking day of overcrowding came as “no surprise to our members who have been working in overcrowded and understaffed wards with no reprieve for years on end.”

Following a monthly review of October’s overcrowding numbers, INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghda said: “Again this winter, our members are not assured that their safety and that of their patients is a priority. The HSE and Government must outline what steps are being taken both at national and local level to dramatically reduce the number of patients on trolleys.”

Varadkar defends health budget, says “this is how Government works.”

For context, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) in March of this year found that approximately 1000 hospital beds were needed imminently and 300 additionally in the coming years due to Ireland having the lowest bed capacity in Europe per capita at the time.

In Budget 2024, the Government aimed to tackle overcrowding through the Urgent and Emergency Care Plan which will increase private hospital capacity, provide additional transitional care beds, and make available funding for Emergency Department in the Home (EDITH) with ED expertise in the homes of patients over 65-years-old. 

There is also additional funding available for increased staffing of beds across acute and community settings, but there is no additional funding for increasing the number of hospital beds.

When Budget 2024 was announced, Deputy Leader for Sinn Fein Pearse Doherty described the Government as having “thrown in the towel” on healthcare – a line dismissed as just a “new phrase” by Tánaiste Michael Martin. 15 days after the Government dedicated zero additional funding for public hospital beds, INMO announced that over 100,000 people had been treated on trolleys in Ireland as of October 25, 2023.

That day in the Dáil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the €22.5 billion health budget, saying: “People make a bid for a large amount of money, and they only get a fraction of what they ask for. That is how Government works.”

The Taoiseach appeared to, rather incredibly, “throw in the towel” publicly and inadvertently admit that overcrowding in our hospitals is part of how his Government works, at least for now.

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