10,000 elderly forced to wait on hospital trolleys for nine hours
The bleak toll of suffering by elderly patients in overcrowded emergency departments is laid bare in new figures showing almost 10,000 frail people over 75 endured more than nine hours on a trolley.
The grim picture of patient distress in January and February shows how many of the nation's emergency departments are creaking at the seams.
It emerged last week that 2,669 of this vulnerable age group were languishing on trolleys for more than 24 hours - but the new figures from the HSE show the real extent of the risks faced by patients with multiple and complex illnesses cared for by over-stretched staff.
Most of the elderly were sick enough to need a hospital bed, while others were treated and sent home.
Hospitals with the worst record are Limerick and Connolly in Blanchardstown, Dublin, but the delays span emergency departments in counties across the country.
One in six patients who attend swamped emergency departments are now over 75 in some hospitals, with particularly high numbers of very elderly people in Mayo, Galway and Sligo.
Emergency consultants have warned that around 300-375 patients, particularly the elderly, are dying due to overcrowding annually because of risks such as greater infection and staff missing the signs of deterioration.
"In June 2012, the then Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, launched the National Emergency Medicine Programme Report," a spokesperson for the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine said. "His government promised its implementation. That report set the standard that 95pc of patients would be seen and either discharged home or admitted to hospital within six hours of their registration in an emergency department and 100pc within nine hours."
Consultants have told Health Minister Simon Harris that if the Government sticks to its "anaemic" target of 2021 to have the majority of patients waiting on trolleys for no more than six hours, 1,750 people will needlessly die.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said there has been a disproportionate increase in emergency department attendances by patients aged 65 and over. "This segment of the population is projected to increase from 11 to 18pc of the population over the next 30 years. This age group have higher care needs," he said.
An extra €117m was provided to the HSE to relieve overcrowding, particularly over the 2015/16 winter period.
He added: "This funding has supported ongoing initiatives to expand hospital capacity, reduce hospital attendances and support timely patient discharges."
Meanwhile, it was confirmed the Government's €15m promised funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund to provide treatments for public waiting list patients in private hospitals will not come through until 2017. More than 500,000 patients are on a waiting list for either surgery or an outpatient appointment.
It means hospitals which are already severely in the red will have to find the funds to try to make some headway in the backlog.