Health crisis as 612 patients now on trolleys nationwide, 'exceptional' increase in GP visits
Record-breaking figures come as HSE warns public of sharp increase in rate of flu
A record 612 patients have been admitted for care on trolleys in hospitals nationwide this morning.
This includes 453 patients on trolleys and 159 patients on wards.
The number is the count of additional patients above the stated complement of that ward or unit.
According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the number is a record high for the amount of people on trolleys at Irish hospitals.
It compares with 601 this time last year, a previous record.
The worst-hit hospital is University Hospital Limerick with a total of 46 people on trolleys awaiting treatment.
Midland Regional Hospital Portlaoise have 42 people on trolleys.
St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny and Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore are also badly-hit with a total of 41 patients each on the trolley count.
The INMO also reports that in 2016 there were 93,621 patients on trolleys in hospitals around the country - a record for a calendar year.
Dr Gary Stack, Medical Director of South Doc which covers the largest geographical area covering Cork and Kerry, said they experienced an "exceptional" increase in patients this festive period.
"The four days of Christmas saw an almost 50pc increase in the number of patient contacts," he told RTE Radio One's News at One.
"This was pretty exceptional. There was an overall 40pc increase over the Christmas period and a 53pc increase over the New Year period.
"That is exceptional compared to last Christmas."
Dr Stack said there has been a 25p increase in visits for under-6s and a slight increase in visits for over-6s.
"This is putting huge pressure on the GP during hours and out of hours," he continued.
"The number of GPs needed are just not available.
"There are 18 vacancies in Cork and Kerry that cannot be finalised at the moment.
"GPs now have waiting lists, which we never had in Ireland.
"We've had them in the UK before, but never in Ireland."
Dr Stack said the average waiting time in the UK can be up to a fortnight, and in Ireland people are now faced with a 24-hour waiting list.
"This has only come about in the last 12 months," Dr Stack continued.
"In south Kerry six years ago, we had six GPs between Waterville and Cahirsiveen.
"From yesterday, it's down to two."
In the Mater 17 people were waiting on trolley's in A and E having been admitted to hospital today according to the INMO figures.
One man who had been seen by doctors and was awaiting further tests said the hospital trolley figures "did not inspire confidence".
The patient, who is from Denmark originally, said that the Government must re-examine how they spend money in the health system.
"I'm not saying Denmark is perfect but at least you know if you need a hospital bed there will be one. At most they will move you to a different hospital," he said.
Another woman, who was attending the hospital with her partner, said she would not rely on the public system for her mother's care.
"Confidence in the system is very low. I have an elderly mam and we had to just take out health insurance for her because she literally wouldn't survive on a trolley," she said.
"The staff, they do their best but it's mismanagement on a larger scale," she added.
Another woman who was waiting to be seen for an allergic reaction said she had tried to avoid attending the hospital due to previous bad experiences in the Irish health system.
"A few years ago I was sent home and had a heart attack three days later, after waiting for 14 hours," she said.
"It's awful to think you could be waiting for hours and then not have a bed if you really were very sick," she said.
"I feel sorry for the nurses too, it's not easy for them."
Meanwhile, the HSE has warned the public that rates of influenza and respiratory illnesses have almost doubled nationwide in the past two weeks.
According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, there have been several outbreaks of the illnesses in care facilities and acute hospitals, particularly in the Dublin region.
The HSE is now warning those who are vulnerable and have not received vaccinations to do so and said "it is not too late".
One person has died as a result of the flu this winter and the latest figures show that almost 100 people were hospitalised with the illness.
This rate is expected to further increase in the coming weeks.
Most cases have involved people 65 years of age and older.
Those who are suffering from flu-like symptoms are advised to drink plenty of fluids, to get lots of rest and to eat healthily.