Leo Varadkar admits situation in emergency departments 'considerably worse' than last year
OVERCROWDING in emergency departments is "considerably worse" than this time last year, and the Government needs to "redouble" its efforts to solve the hospital beds crisis, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has admitted.
An additional 1,000 beds have been provided, "but this hasn't been enough", he said.
"It's never possible to say there will never be overcrowding in emergency departments; it happens all over the world where there's a surge of patients.
"Certainly the situation we're in now is considerably worse than it would have been this time last year, or the year before.
"We need to redouble our efforts in the next couple of weeks," he added.
"This will include 175 additional community nursing unit beds.
"There will also be a media campaign to encourage people to use minor injury units, rather that emergency departments.
"Many of them are available around the country - but are underused."
He said the target is to have no more than 70 people on trolleys for more than nine hours by the "fourth quarter of this year."
"But at the moment our initial target is to free up as many beds as possible and to discharge as many patients as possible."
He also said he was "disappointed to hear" about a case on Friday when a patient in Dublin was forced to wait over three hours for an ambulance to arrive after calling 999.
"It demonstrates that there is a particular issue in the capital where we have two ambulance services - Dublin Fire Brigade and the National Ambulance Service - and they don't always co-ordinate as well as they should."
''That is something that needs to change."
Referring to the latest opinion poll, he was asked if he could envisage a scenario in which Fine Gael would form a coalition with Sinn Fein.
He replied: "No, I can't envisage it."
Despite their dismal showing in the opinion polls, he also said he "wouldn't write off" the Labour Party from making their mark in the next election.
"They've bounced back many times before - and they have a lot of strong candidates in the field - who I think will surprise people on the day."
Speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Varadkar also said voter turnout will play a key role in the outcome of the upcoming marriage equality referendum in May.
"You can take nothing for granted in referendums. I was director of elections for Fine Gael for the children's referendum, and that passed by a much narrower majority than we had anticipated.
"Less than half of people turn out to vote in referendums and that's why I think it's very important that there is a vigorous campaign, and that there is a high turnout."
He also described former Fianna Fail TD Pat Carey, who in recent days announced he is a gay man, as a "gentleman".
"I'm delighted for Pat. I think he's really one of politic's gentlemen. People say that a lot, but it's really true in his case.
"But the referendum isn't about any individual; it's about equality," he added.