20 Jan 2022

Use of protocol at Donegal hospital called 'extremely alarming'

Full capacity protocol implemented at Letterkenny hospital about 50 per cent of the time this year

Use of protocol at Donegal hospital called 'extremely alarming'

Letterkenny University Hospital

Letterkenny University Hospital employed the full capacity protocol about 50 per cent of the time in the first half of this year, a Donegal county councillor has learned.

Fianna Fáil Cllr. Gerry Crawford obtained the information from the Saolta University Health Care Group in a written response to a question he posed to the HSE Regional Health Forum West for their June meeting.

In response to the question from Cllr. Crawford, a member of the forum, the Saolta group said the full capacity protocol was implemented at Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) 103 times in 2016 and had been implemented about 50 per cent of the time through June of this year.

Cllr. Crawford called the figures extremely alarming.

"The full capacity protocol is heard so often that it's almost taken as a given," Cllr. Crawford said. "The consequences for the staff, who are doing magnificent work and who are under intense pressure, and the implications for patients who are waiting on procedures and services is immense."

The protocol includes such measures as placing additional beds in wards and directing the public to GPs or NowDoc services rather than emergency departments, except in cases of emergency.

Cllr. Crawford said the protocol had initially been considered a response to emergency department crowding that occurred in the winter months.

"This is a 'winter crisis', but this is our summer," he said. "This is now a full-blown crisis. We are denied our full access to hospital services."

He said he was repeating the call of his party colleague, Pat "the Cope" Gallagher, TD and leas-cheann comhairle, for a full and independent review of services, staffing and budgets across all services LUH provides.

"The people of Donegal are being denied their rightful entitlement to health services, and it is a crisis," he said. "No fancy footwork or professional use of wording can alter the fact that 50 per cent of the year to date this hospital was working on a severely restrictive protocol."

In its response, the Saolta group acknowledged that LUH had experienced "significant bed pressures" over the past month, but said no discernible cause or pattern had been identified to explain the increase.

For example, Saolta said, an average of 756 people attended the emergency department each week in 2016. An average of 750 continued for the first four months of this year, but the numbers averaged at 850, a 13 per cent increase, during the first four weeks in May.

Delayed discharges at LUH also had what Saolta called in their response "a negative impact" on bed capacity.

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