OPINION: The current crisis at University Hospital Kerry will escalate throughout the winter unless immediate action is taken to alleviate overcrowding, restore elective surgeries, provide more facilities and give concerned patients the care and services they need, writes Kerry Sinn Fein TD Pa Daly who said promised improvements have not been delivered
I AM contacted daily by constituents regarding the situation in University Hospital Kerry and the HSE.
Staff, patients and families of patients are all expressing their deep concern about the under-staffing at the hospital which is leading to lack of services, unacceptable delays in care and causing undue stress and worry.
It is the only acute hospital in our county and people are genuinely concerned.
In November 2020, Kerry TDs secured a meeting regarding the measures UHK was taking to address staffing issues and capacity constraints at the hospital. We heard about works due to be carried out over the winter of 2020/21 including a cardiology unit, ICU expansion and improvements, new buildings for oncology services, an orthopaedic ward as well as women’s health/colposcopy outpatients department to be located in Tralee town centre.
Last week, I attended another meeting with the South/South West Hospital Group and UHK management, attended by all Kerry TDs, to discuss the current situation. I was very disappointed to hear that works due to be completed have not moved at all.
These works, apparently approved and budgeted for, are sitting on a desk in capital projects within the HSE in Dublin. This is simply unacceptable and I have requested updates on the status of all UHK capital projects with Minister Donnelly.
I have raised the issue of inadequate ventilation within the hospital. We know that ventilation is essential to limit the spread of Covid-19. With building works the windows must remain sealed shut for infection control. Investment in a HVAC system to support the whole hospital, but especially the wards, must be provided.
I am also calling on Minister Donnelly to make urgent plans to install a modular unit, which can be completed in a matter of weeks, at the front of the hospital to facilitate assessments and Covid overflow and relieve the crisis within the emergency department.
It is clear that we will not manage through the winter unless the minister acts now to alleviate the overcrowding. This is a measure that was already budgeted well ahead of Budget 2022 and there is no reason for a further delay.
We see daily trolley numbers in excess of 15 in the emergency department, with many having to stay on trolleys in excess of 24 hours. Ambulances then wait for hours to hand off patients which results in ambulances being unavailable elsewhere.
Staffing within the hospital has to be addressed as a matter of priority. We are losing nursing staff due to the conditions they are working under and neither nurses nor consultants have the resources in place to support them. These are basic elements of a well-functioning hospital. UHK excelled at this once and I believe it will not take much to make it do so again.
There is no plan at the moment to restart elective surgeries in UHK and this was extremely disappointing to hear. People are in real pain and have rearranged their work, families and lives to plan for surgery that is then cancelled at short notice.
There is no commitment as to when these long-awaited surgeries will happen. There are murmurings that people will be sent to Cork and this is simply unrealistic and unacceptable for the people of Kerry.
I was particularly disappointed to hear, shortly after the meeting, that the Aghadoe ward would be closed in UHK to address capacity issues. It would have been helpful to discuss the consequences of this in the meeting itself.
The lack of ambition in Budget 2022 to address the healthcare issues plaguing the country is depressing. We are in desperate need of disability and mental health intervention services.
€100 million would have gone a very long way in providing additional numbers of speech and occupational therapists, psychologists and therapists. People do not have the money to pay for these services privately and this is even more out of reach now with the costs of living spiralling and very little in the Budget to address this for the average person.
I hoped that the Budget would set out clear plans to address the 900,000 people on waiting lists nationwide but, it seems, we may instead reach the milestone of 1,000,000 people waiting for services in Ireland in 2022.