Senator Pádraig MacLochlainn
The disclosure this week that Letterkenny University Hospital deployed the full capacity protocol more than 100 times last year is indicative of a whole health service crisis, Sinn Féin Sen. Pádraig MacLochlainn said.
The senator said the protocol was supposed to be the last resort, “but very clearly now it is almost a permanent feature”. He added, “And I don’t see it improving in 2017, I have to say.”
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s Trolley and Ward Watch reported a record 612 admitted patients on trolleys in hospitals across the country on Tuesday morning. Those figures included 33 patients awaiting beds at Letterkenny hospital, including 20 patients on trolleys; and 23 patients awaiting beds at Sligo University Hospital, with 19 on trolleys.
Liam Doran, INMO general secretary, called the national figures, “truly shocking”.
“The compromising of care, not to mention the loss of privacy and dignity, cannot go unchallenged and must be acknowledged and addressed by health management,” Mr. Doran said.
That same day, Sen. MacLochlann released information secured through a parliamentary question that showed LUH had deployed the full capacity protocol 103 times in 2016.
Letterkenny University Hospital
Sen. MacLochlainn said the situation in Donegal is indicative of a crisis within the larger health service. “Primary care services – doctors, GPs, community hospitals, home-care packages – they’re squeezed to the bone,” he said.
The senator said hospitals should be releasing patients into the community hospital system or home-care packages, “and they’re not ready for them”.
“The bottleneck presents at A&E,” Sen. MacLochlainn said. He said the solution to the crisis would be an urgent level of investment in home care, community hospitals and nursing units as well as acute hospitals, to reverse what he said was years of chronic underinvestment.
“It’s a whole of service response to a whole of service crisis,” he said.
Fianna Fáil Cllr. Gerry Crawford, a member of the Health Service Executive (HSE) Regional Health Forum West, said people have become accustomed to hearing the protocol deployed at LUH.
“But it is not something that should be underestimated in its capacity to cause havoc and to distress hospital staff, who do their best, and also to patients who are waiting for procedures – each full capacity protocol further delays their opportunity for treatment of something they have already been diagnosed with,” Cllr. Crawford said.
He described the knock-on effect as immense, saying that despite the overcrowding issue being raised regularly by members of the health forum and at national level, “it’s obviously getting worse instead of better”.
Cllr. Crawford acknowledged there were difficulties in solving the problem, but said, “It should become quite obvious that whatever system they’re working on simply is not working”.
He said community hospitals must be part of the solution, saying the HSE was not showing community hospitals, especially in the Finn Valley, the commitment they should.
Independent Cllr. Michael McBride, a health forum member, last November tabled a motion of no confidence in the HSE before Donegal County Council that received support from across the council groupings.
“The total model of health care is not working and I don’t think it will work in its current form,” Cllr. McBride said. He said he was not criticising the frontline staff.
“It's not about people working at the coalface,” he said, adding, “The problem is the model.”