Letterkenny General Hospital
|Letterkenny General Hospital|
|Health Service Executive|
|Location||Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland|
|Emergency department||Damaged beyond repair|
One of Ireland's busiest, the campus is divided by a main road heading north towards Inishowen. A teaching hospital, it maintains links with NUI Galway, LYIT and the Royal College of Surgeons. The General Manager is Sean Murphy, the Director of Nursing is Dr. Anne Flood and the Clinical Director is Dr. Paul O'Connor.
The hospital has often found itself at the centre of the problems faced by Ireland's crumbling Health Service, extending back to the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat governments of Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney to the present Fine Gael/Labour coalition. A common feature is the treatment of patients on trolleys due to chronic bed shortages. The hospital is currently closed to all patients and visitors after being destroyed by flooding in July 2013. It is not expected to open for a long, long time.
The General Hospital replaced the County Hospital which opened in 1832 and closed on 31 August 1960. Nowadays the hospital consists of a single storey building that dates from the 1960s, and a multi-storey extension built above this and opened in 1981. Most of the facilities are housed in this building but some, such as the dental, ophthalmic and some mental health facilities, are housed across the road in St. Conal's Psychiatric Hospital.
Treatment of Seamus Heaney
On 14 July 2009, a gang of men entered the hospital, one of them brandishing an axe. He subsequently made his way to floor E where he baricaded himself into the staff room. Areas of the hospital were sealed off during the incident to prevent further movement. The man was later talked out by family members and staff and surrendered the axe. It is understood that the man was making his way to the intensive care unit to visit the husband of a deceased member of his family. He had taken an overdose after his wife died in a car crash. It is also believed that a man entered the intensive care unit dressed as a priest with a knife hidden under his garments. He left the scene peacefully.
New emergency department
In November 2008, it was confirmed that work would to begin on a new emergency department and medical wards at the hospital measuring in the region of 6,600 square metres. Construction began in January 2009, at a cost of approximately €22 million, and was expected to be completed in late 2010. The new facility was to provide three medical floors consisting of 72 beds, two thirds of which were to be provided in single rooms. The new Emergency Department would have 19 treatment spaces, incorporate an 11 bed Medical Assessment Unit and an X-Ray room. The mortuary chapel would be moved from its current position to a new location during construction. Health Minister James Reilly finally opened the new unit in 2013.
Following a heatwave across Ireland, a thunderstorm provoked a deluge of rain into falling at around 17:00 on 26 July 2013, causing a nearby river to burst its banks. The resulting flood "completely destroyed" the new emergency department, swept much of the rest of the hospital away and led to the evacuation of patients from the hospital. A state of emergency was declared. As well as the new emergency department, flooding destroyed the hospital's radiology department, outpatient department, pathology and medical records departments, kitchens and numerous wards. The hospital's X-ray facilities and CT scanners were destroyed.
With the damage done fire crew pumped out the floodwaters and off-duty staff rushed back to the hospital to help patients to safety and to try to save any medical files that had been untouched by the raw sewerage that had flooded the hospital. Blame for the scale of the damage was laid on cutbacks at Donegal County Council which led to drains outside the hospital going uncleaned for seven months. As a result the floodwaters had nowhere to go.
Hospital manager Sean Murphy said: “The speed with which it happened was incredible. We had an hour that changed the face of the hospital.” With the hospital knocked immediately out of action the damage necessitated the transfer of all prospective patients to hospitals in Derry and Sligo. This put extra strain on those hospitals, which were already struggling with to cope with patients from their own counties.
In August 2013, nurses at the hospital were told they would have to travel to Derry to help deal with the overflow of patients there. This created further bureaucratic difficulties as the nurses were required to be registered to work in the UK. Also that month, the mobile kitchens used during the 39th G8 summit at Lough Erne were brought to the hospital, to deal with the problems arising from the destruction of the hospital's kitchens. All catering until then was delivered to the hospital by nearby hotels and restaurants.
As a result of the disaster, County Donegal (Ireland's fourth largest county) was left without a functioning emergency department, with the nearest one in the country being two counties away in Sligo. Seriously ill inhabitants were evacuated out of the county via the coastguard helicopter, which was put on 24-hour standby. Early estimates put the scale of the damage at €10 million and rising. Parts of the hospital were expected to have to be demolished, further increasing the final cost of repairing the damaged hospital.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny of Fine Gael remarked that the floods had “destroyed a first class medical facility” and called the damage “very substantial - records lost, MRI machine, diagnostics laboratory, walls to be stripped and decontaminated. It means, effectively, that Letterkenny General Hospital will be out of operation for a considerable time”. He did not visit the hospital, and came under heavy criticism for not doing so. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, himself a former Minister for Health who had announced the new emergency department almost exactly ten years previously, visited the hospital on 31 July. Martin said: “The sheer scale of the devastation following last week's floods has to be seen to be believed. This level of damage is unprecedented for any Irish hospital in living memory, and there are serious implications for health service provision right across the North West.”
On the same day as Martin's visit to the damaged hospital, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch came to see for herself. However, during her visit, she took ill and ironically became the first and last person to be admitted to the hospital since the flood. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams visited the hospital the following day.
Meanwhile, consultant oncologist and senator John Crown was critical of the lack of media interest in the events outside the area affected. He said online: "If [a] flood like Letterkenny Hosp[ital] flood had happened in [a] Dublin hospital [I] suspect it would have greater coverage."
The main hospital building has a total of five storeys, labelled Floors A to E in ascending order. Upper floors may be accessed by stairs or by lifts, of which there are three. Floor A is dedicated to reception, administration and the day clinic and also contains the hospital shop. Floor B contains the Emergency Department, Coronary Care Unit, radiography, Medical Wards 1, 2 and 3, Maternity Unit, Gynaecology Ward, Post Department, Stationery Department, coffee dock and staff canteen among other facilities. Floor C houses the Orthopaedic and Paediatric Units and Floor D houses Surgical Wards 1 and 2, as well as the HDU (High Dependency Unit). Floor E houses Theatre, where most surgery takes place, and is also where the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and its waiting room may be found.
- Cardiology Department
- Catering Services
- Clinical Audit
- Central Sterile Services Department
- Colposcopy Clinic
- Education Centre
- Emergency Department
- Facilities Department
- Fetal Assessment Unit
- Gynaecology Department
- Haematology Services
- Human Resources Department
- Maternity Department
- Medical Department
- Mental Health Services
- Neo Natal Unit
- Nurse Practice Development Unit
- Occupational Therapy Department
- Oncology Department
- Orthopaedic Department
- Out Patient Clinics
- Paediatric Services
- Pathology Department
- Regional Kidney Centre
- Surgical Department
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