10-fold increase in AE patients in Sligo

Thu, Jan 7, 2010, 00:00

HOSPITALS:THE NUMBER of people attending the emergency department at Sligo General Hospital has increased 10-fold as a direct result of the bad weather, a leading consultant has said.

Dr Fergal Hickey, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, said he believed this pattern was being repeated at emergency departments all over the State.

Appealing for people to take care, he pointed out that many of the fractures were sustained by people outside their own homes.

“These are not people climbing Ben Bulben,” he stressed. “This is happening outside people’s front doors when they are walking on footpaths or crossing the road.”

Dr Hickey said with the cold spell set to continue, people should be very careful walking on icy roads and paths.

He confirmed that more than 120 people had had emergency orthopaedic surgery at Sligo General Hospital since December 14th – twice as many as normally undertaken during this period.

However the consultant said that while the normal winter workload at the hospital was considerably down, this had been more than compensated for by a surge in people attending with fractures, the majority of which did not require surgery.

“The number of people attending daily with fractures is up anything from five to 10 times the normal figure,” Dr Hickey said. Normally the hospital might have anything from two to five fractures a day.

The consultant said while broken limbs did not normally require intervention such as surgery, in recent weeks  he and his staff had seen extreme cases requiring reconstruction and surgery because people falling unexpectedly on ice do so at a high velocity. “I am talking about hips, wrists and also elbows and shoulders,” he said.

Dr Hickey said that because people tended to avoid unnecessary travel or to drive much more slowly in current conditions, he was not seeing as many road-related emergency cases as might be expected.

He also said the old adage about cold killing germs appeared to be true as they were seeing much fewer people with viral infections.

His colleagues at hospital emergency departments in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Donegal and Limerick have also said they were inundated with people presenting with fractures in recent days as a result of falls on snow and ice.

Dr Peter O’Rourke, an orthopaedic surgeon at Letterkenny General Hospital, said earlier this week that hospitals had been struggling to keep up with supplies of screws and plates to insert into fractured wrists and ankles.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation claimed there were more than 400 patients on trolleys in hospital emergency departments across the State early yesterday.

Fine Gael’s health spokesman Dr James Reilly said more than 400 people had endured this for the past two days as the impact of the adverse weather conditions hit hospitals. “The Government’s determination to further remove capacity and its inability to tackle the issue of long-stay patients inappropriately placed in acute beds means patients and their families will continue to suffer unnecessarily,” he said.

Cork University Hospital has also reported a huge increase in the numbers presenting with injuries and has cancelled some elective surgery to allow emergency cases to undergo operations.