Every week in the media we hear reports of overcrowding and congestion in accident and emergency departments across the country. Last year alone, 1.3 million people attended accident and emergency departments, with only 330,000 requiring admission for further treatment. The accident and emergency department in University Hospital Galway is one of the busiest in the country, with more than 60,000 people each year presenting there. Staff are overworked and trying to do their best in almost impossible conditions, working in a unit which is universally accepted as being cramped, dilapidated and not fit for purpose. Hospital management has stated that it is an ongoing challenge to manage the large numbers attending daily and it has become an extremely stressful environment for patients and staff.
Chronic parking congestion at the hospital is also a major problem, and it causes people to miss appointments frequently.
I recently visited a minor injuries unit at Roscommon hospital to see for myself how it operates. I was given a full tour of the facility by the general manager, Ms Mary Garvey, and the director of nursing, Ms Ursula Morgan, and I was very impressed by the facility. I compliment both on the excellent work they do there. They inform me it takes an average of just 55 minutes for a person to be seen, treated and discharged.
The ten other minor injuries units throughout the country can handle everything from broken bones, lacerations, strains and sprains to minor scalds and burns, and they are open seven days per week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Last year, the unit in Roscommon treated more than 6,000 patients. The unit is staffed by a small number of competent staff and is overseen by a consultant physician and an advanced nurse practitioner.
I strongly believe the establishment of a minor injuries unit in the Merlin Park University Hospital grounds would be an immediate and cost-effective method of relieving the overcrowding and stress at the accident and emergency unit at University Hospital Galway. I acknowledge there are plans in train for a new emergency department at University Hospital Galway but this project is still at design stage. A new facility is still many years away.
The HSE target for patients to be seen by a doctor in an accident and emergency unit is six hours. We know, however, that this is never achieved. In Galway, it could be double that time, especially for a non-urgent minor injury. I know of cases where people with a minor injury waited up to 24 hours to be seen.
There are 11 minor injuries units operating very effectively across the country. Surely Galway, which is acknowledged as having one of the most congested accident and emergency departments in the country, should be considered for one. A minor injuries unit could reduce the number attending the emergency department in Galway by thousands.
Is not the obvious solution to provide a minor injuries unit at Merlin Park University Hospital in Galway city? It has acres of space, easier access from almost anywhere in Galway and ample parking. Most important, it would relieve so much of the ongoing pressure on the emergency department at University Hospital Galway.