Harney still on holiday as 500 stuck on trolleys
A&E doctors warn overcrowding could be lethal
HEALTH Minister Mary Harney will remain abroad on holiday until the weekend despite nearly 500 people enduring lengthy delays on hospital trolleys again yesterday.
The minister, who has been strongly criticised for her silence during the overcrowding crisis, has been on an extended Christmas and New Year break with her husband.
A spokesman for the minister insisted last night she had been fully briefed on the issue and would be "back at her desk on Monday morning".
Last March Ms Harney was on an extended St Patrick's Day trip in New Zealand when it emerged that thousands of X-rays remained unread at Tallaght Hospital.
She did not return early to deal with the fallout despite calls to do so.
The number of patients on trolleys has fallen slightly after a record 569 on Wednesday -- but 492 were still being treated in emergency departments yesterday morning, just three less than the "national emergency" declared by the minister in March 2006.
Cork University Hospital was struggling to care for 34 patients and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin had 35 patients on trolleys, the figures compiled by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) yesterday morning revealed.
Other hospitals facing severe pressure were Tallaght Hospital in Dublin (34), Limerick Regional Hospital (34) and St Vincent's Hospital Dublin (25).
As emergency doctors endured another day of hazardous conditions, they warned that the overcrowding could potentially be the difference between life and death for patients.
Dr John McInerney, spokesman for emergency consultants, said these type of conditions were known to lead to a rise in deaths among ill patients.
He said that while the HSE was blaming the rise in swine flu for the appalling conditions, it was clear to doctors that a shortage of beds was the real source of the problem.
Much of the problem arises from having more than 1,500 acute hospital beds closed or otherwise unavailable to patients, he added.
The INMO said its own survey on Wednesday showed there were 1,672 beds closed in acute hospitals and nursing homes.
Although it has been claimed that closed beds are being re-opened, it emerged yesterday they are few in number and not enough to provide the level of ward accommodation needed.
Most hospitals reduced the numbers on trolleys by yesterday afternoon but the influx of patients is expected to continue over the coming days with particular fears for next week when several A&E units will be coping with a lack of junior doctors.
Fine Gael TD Dr James Reilly said if Fine Gael was part of the next government he would introduce new hospital management and measures to use beds more efficiently.
Many people who were due to have operations had the surgery cancelled again yesterday. Ten patients from waiting lists had the surgery cancelled in Limerick Regional yesterday and 10 more will be postponed today. A spokesman for the Mater Hospital in Dublin said that as of 2pm yesterday it had reduced the numbers waiting for a bed to three.