Hospital managers ‘not to blame’ for trolley crisis

Chief executive of Limerick hospital respsonds to Harris letter criticising management

The chief executive of the University of Limerick (UL) Hospital Group, Colette Cowan, has vehemently disagreed that hospital managers are to blame for the country's hospital trolley crisis.

“We are not here ignoring the fact that we are busy. We are under an accountability and performance framework that was brought into the health service last January, which we signed up to, so we are accountable,” she said.

Ms Cowan said she and her colleagues were already "performance managed" by the HSE and were given "targets that we have to meet". She was reacting to media reports of a letter sent to the HSE by Minister for Health Simon Harris, urging HSE managers to implement policy allowing him to remove managers who were failing to resolve the crisis.

On Thursday, University Hospital Limerick had 60 patients on trolleys between its emergency department (30) and general wards (30).


“There are some targets that we haven’t met in the last few days, with the numbers of patients in the emergency department; so my sense is that the Minister is saying we are not meeting his targets and we should be accountable and he’s right, and we do account,” she said.

However, she strongly disagreed managers were to blame for the crisis: “I disagree with that, as would all my colleagues. We know how [hard] we work; we work over and above our hours to make sure patients are safe. The key thing that matters to me is that patients are looked after, and safe, and everything else I’m happy to account for.”

Last Tuesday, 16 ambulances were waiting at the hospital to load patients in and out of the emergency department.

Ms Cowan said she believed the “unprecedented” pile up occurred because of GPs dealing with a wave of patients after Christmas.

Primary care

She said health policy needed to shift “off of hospital’s who cannot turn around patients and can’t lock the door” and provide more investment in primary care services.

She said the hospital crisis was down to a growing, ageing population.

“In 2009, we had 51,000 coming through the emergency department, and on our count for last year, we had 64,500, so it’s growing every year.”

Despite record numbers of patients on trolleys at the hospital, Ms Cowan said she did not believe patients lives were at risk, however she acknowledged patients on trolleys had “no dignity” and “no privacy”.

She said there was a full compliment of emergency department managers and consultants working at the hospital through Christmas into the new year.

Ms Cowan expected a new emergency department, “three times the size of the current . . . small, cramped, and claustrophobic” one, would be opened by the end of May.