Tallaght hospital’s emergency department ‘dangerous and unsafe’, says doctor

Consultant calls for Simon Harris to rapidly introduce new beds to deal with ‘capacity crisis’

A 64-year-old patient has been waiting over four days for a bed in Tallaght hospital. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

A 64-year-old patient has been waiting over four days for a bed in Tallaght hospital. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The emergency department at Tallaght hospital has been described as “dangerous and unsafe” by a consultant at the hospital with patients on trolleys being cared for in “inappropriate spaces” and “sub-human conditions”.

Dr James Gray, a consultant in accident and emergency medicine at Tallaght Hospital, emailed Minister for Health Simon Harris on Monday warning the hospital’s emergency department was “not functioning” given the lack of staff and beds.

There were 40 patients on trolleys or on wards awaiting admission at the Dublin hospital on Monday, including an 84-year-old patient who had been waiting for more than a day and a 64-year-old waiting for more than four days. Some 714 patients were on trolleys or on wards nationwide on Monday, making it the highest number recorded.

Dr Gray wrote that a number of patients were “being cared for in inappropriate spaces”, while others were “warehoused in a Rapid Assessment Unit with no dedicated nurse provision to look after them”. He said the overcrowding and lack of trolleys was in clear breach of HSE directives and Health Information and Quality Authority recommendations.

With no dedicated isolation room, many patients were placed in cubicles with just a curtain for privacy while the sharing of toilets and washing facilities could add to the hospital’s “overall poor infection control standards”, said Dr Gray.

Some patients with chest pain and breathing difficulties had already spent 14 hours waiting to see a doctor by Monday morning, while the overcrowded trolley situation had created an “evacuation hazard for patients”. “It is only a matter of time before our next trolley related serious morbidity or death,” he wrote.

Dr Gray told The Irish Times the Government must urgently meet the commitments made under the Sláintecare report in order to deal with this “capacity crisis”. “In the next ten years we’re expecting 2,600 beds to be placed in hospitals. We need to get the first tranche of those beds this year. I’d say we need at least 500 beds in 2018.

“The health system is broken and we’re seeing the collapse now of the system with the spiralling numbers of trolleys. We need firm action and the biggest action we can take is beds.”

A statement from Tallaght hospital apologised “unreservedly” to any patients who had experienced delays in getting a bed. It said the hospital’s emergency department was experiencing a high number of patients, with attendances up by 11 per cent overall and by 24 per cent for over 75s compared to the same time last year.

The hospital said “population growth and significant demographic change” in its catchment area was leading to an increase in demand for services. It added that the hospital was also experiencing delays in patient discharges due to the low availability of off-site facilities and home care packages.

A statement from University Hospital Limerick - which had 80 patients waiting on trolleys or in wards for a bed on Monday, the highest in any hospital in the State - appealed to members of the public to consider all their care options before travelling to the hospital’s emergency department.

It apologised for any distress or inconvenience caused to patients or their family and said the hospital had seen a sustained increase in attendances in the past year. It noted that the number of patients attending the emergency department had already risen by 17 per cent before the additional increase in numbers following Storm Emma.