Tipperary patients set to benefit as Limerick hospital opens new €24m ED department

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The HSE has apologised to a patient who had to be treated in the ambulance bay of the Mid Western Regional Hospital

University Hospital Limerick has opened its new ED department

Ireland's largest and most advanced Emergency Department opened this Monday, May 29, at University Hospital Limerick.

A €24m project (development and equipment costs), the ED spans 3,850 square metres of floor space, over three times the size of the old department. In 2016, UHL had the busiest ED in the country, with over 64,000 attendances.

Almost 100 additional staff have been recruited to work in the ED, which has increased capacity for patients and has been designed with the input of senior clinicians to improve patient flow, reduce patient experience times (PET) and improve outcomes for the sickest patients.

The new ED features the most advanced diagnostic equipment of any such facility in Ireland or the UK, including a €1m, 128-slice CT scanner which is mounted on a track to minimise the movement of the sickest patients in Resuscitation, allowing for earlier diagnosis and treatment of stroke, trauma patients etc.

The facility is separated into different pods and zones, allowing for paediatric patients, major cases, minor cases etc to be treated separately, matched to the most appropriate clinical expertise and moved to the next stage of the their care in the most efficient manner.

Each separate area has its own isolation facilities that offer a gold standard in infection prevention and control. The number of triage areas has increased from one to four, including a separate room for paediatric triage. There is an advanced pharmacy dispensing system next to staff bases throughout the department and the pneumatic chute system for sending specimens to the laboratories is now available throughout the ED as opposed to a single point of access previously. Other features include a decontamination suite; two family rooms attached to a viewing room and garden for bereaved relatives; an internal courtyard which can be accessed by patients; a dedicated space for patients presenting with a mental health crisis; significantly improved staff facilities and a simulation room and education/training facilities that will significantly enhance the attractiveness of UHL as a major teaching hospital.

Prof Colette Cowan, CEO, UL Hospitals Group, said: "We are delighted to open the most modern ED in Europe. It is something our patients and our staff have been waiting a long time for and we thank the HSE and the Department of Health for their support in delivering an ED the whole country can be proud of.

"We know from our patients that many of the problems associated with the old ED were environmental. The department was simply too small to treat patients with the dignity and privacy they deserve at such a vulnerable time. The new department will return that dignity and privacy to them; it will help us minimise the risk of infection for our patients; it will allow for more prompt investigations, earlier treatments and better outcomes and it is designed very much with patient comfort in mind. Small design details stand out everywhere you look, for example with non-slip floors, better signage and handrails to allow elderly patients better navigate the department."

The opening has been welcomed by Tipperary Labour TD Deputy Alan Kelly, who said: "I am delighted that the new Emergency Department in University Hospital Limerick has opened ahead of schedule. I fully supported CEO Colette Cowan when she made the decision to open the department today, despite there been problems with funding the department for part of 2017. It is hugely important that the new emergency department opened as soon as possible as the previous situation was unsustainable for both patients, their families and staff."

Prof Paul Burke, chief clinical director, UL Hospitals Group, said: "We are really excited to be opening a new state-of-the art Emergency Department, which we know will greatly enhance the patient experience of ED and of UHL overall. We are confident of improved patient outcomes, which is something the region can celebrate. We are also delighted for all our staff. Many of them have been working under extremely difficult circumstances over many years in a department that was no longer fit to serve the needs of the region. This modern facility will come as a great morale boost for them and for the whole of the UL Hospitals Group."

Dr Cormac Mehigan, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, UL Hospitals Group added: "As soon as they walk in the door, patients will see a huge difference between the facility we have now compared to what they have been used to. You don’t have to be a clinician to realise our ability to deal with any sort of situation is significantly enhanced.

“There is increased capacity for every category of patient; increasing cubicle space for minor cases from three to 10; from six to eight paediatric rooms; from seven to 12 majors and from nine to 12 in the Clinical Decision Unit. But it is not just about the increased capacity. We are changing our processes and how we work. The combination of both the space and how we use the space is what will enhance the experience of the patient and help them to flow more efficiently through the department.

“Given that there is a body of international evidence that suggests numbers will increase when you open a facility such as this, it is important that people in the MidWest continue to use our Injury Units in St John’s, Ennis and Nenagh for appropriate unscheduled care and to keep the Emergency Department for emergencies. Ennis and Nenagh are open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week and St John’s from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday where people with minor injuries to limbs, sprains, cuts, grazes and so on can be appropriately and quickly seen.”

 The new ED has been funded by the HSE and occupies the Ground Floor of both the €40m Critical Care Block which opened in late 2014 and the more recently constructed extension to it which also includes a new dialysis unit at first floor level.