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UL hospital group CEO on leave amid record overcrowding

The HSE has confirmed that the CEO of the University of Limerick hospital group, Professor Colette Cowan has gone on leave and her duties are to be taken over by the Assistant National Director of the HSE Sonya Cotter from next Wednesday.

Professor Cowan is CEO of the hospital group, which manages six hospitals across Co Limerick, Co Clare and Co Tipperary.

She has been the lead manager of the group since 2014, which includes University Hospital Limerick (UHL), Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospitals, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, University Maternity Hospital Limerick and St Johns in Limerick.

The confirmation that she is to take leave follows the worst week for overcrowding at UHL, the midwest’s acute hospital.

Record numbers of patients were waiting for a hospital bed on consecutive days this week, according to the daily INMO trolley figures.

There were 138 patients recorded as waiting on trolleys at the hospital on 6 February, followed by 150 waiting on 7 February—the highest figures ever recorded since the INMO began recording trolley waiting lists in 2006.

There were 88 patients recorded as waiting on trolleys at the hospital on 6 February, according to TrolleyGar data.

The following day, TrolleyGar reported that 103 patients were waiting on trolleys.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged reform was needed at UHL given that the department had addressed the capacity issues

Responding to the crisis figures Minister for Health Stephan Donnelly said he could not stand over the high numbers waiting on trolleys at UHL, given the huge investment in the hospital since 2020, where an additional 1,000 staff had been employed, and the number of emergency department consultants there had also been increased.

But he acknowledged that the hospital had the second worst discharge rate at weekends of any hospital in the country and that reform was needed at UHL given that the department had addressed the capacity issues.

In a statement, the HSE confirmed Professor Cowan’s absence and that her duties would be taken over by Ms Cotter from next Wednesday.

A HSE spokesperson said: “When a delegated official is on leave, there are always acting arrangements put in place to ensure there is authority to discharge functions and operate services at all times.”

“Further to your query, Ms Sonya Cotter, Assistant National Director of the HSE, is to be the acting CEO of ULHG from 14 February for the purpose of covering leave,” it said.

Clinical and corporate governance of UHL is also coming under the spotlight as part of an investigation into the tragic death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston, Co Clare, at the hospital in December 2022.

An internal report found that there was a 12-hour delay in identifying that she had developed sepsis.

HSE Chief Bernard Gloster has tasked former Chief Justice Frank Clarke with heading an independent investigation into the teenager’s death, and into the clinical and corporate of UHL.

He will also be tasked with identifying other factors or causes which may improve current and future service delivery.

The investigation is due to take eight weeks.


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