Monday 5 December 2016

One patient a day 'dies as a result of ICU bed crisis'

A six-hour delay in critical care raises death rate, conference hears

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Emergency consultant Fergal Hickey.
Emergency consultant Fergal Hickey.

Up to 350 patients a year - one person a day - may be dying due to lack of intensive care beds, leading medical specialists warned yesterday.

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And another 300 are needlessly dying because of the dangers posed by the trolley crisis, said Dr Fergal Hickey, emergency consultant.

The Sligo medic, told the Irish Hospital Consultants Association annual meeting that Ireland is a top spending country on health but the outcomes for patients are "quite consistently poor".

The lack of critical care beds for the sickest patients was forcing major surgeries to be cancelled. It also leads to a delay in moving some very ill patients, leaving them in an emergency unit instead.

"We know that if your admission is delayed by more than six hours to an intensive care unit, your mortality chances rise."

He told the gathering that the dysfunctional manner in which the health service is run means that we are "burning money".

The risk to patients from a lack of intensive care beds was backed by Dr Tom Ryan, of St James's Hospital, the President of the doctors' body.

He said the number of critical care beds has fallen, despite a report in 2009 calling for an increase. At the same time the numbers of elderly patients have risen, he added.

Intensive care units are operating at over 100pc capacity, he added.

It means patients who should be in intensive care are having to be cared for in other parts of the hospital with risks such as cross-infection.

Dr Ryan also warned the hospital trolley crisis will worsen this winter and a potential calamity is looming.

This crisis could be sparked by a major flu outbreak.

Emergency unit overcrowding is a reflection of a failing hospital system, he added

He warned that Ireland has been fortunate to avoid a major health care calamity during winter due to surges in activity.

"But we are all keenly aware that our luck may not hold out," he told the conference.

He said hospitals are struggling with a bed shortage, over 600 patients occupying beds who could be discharged and failure to recruit enough doctors.

Doctors are having to endure witnessing quality of care coming second to the need by hospitals to meet budgets, he added.

The rush to stick to budgets has meant the 'ledger mentality' has taken over.

"We have a failing hospital system which is rationing healthcare to patients," he added. He raised particular concern about the reduction in intensive care unit beds.

Speaking at the conference Health Minister Simon Harris said Dr Ryan's comments were a fair and detailed critique.

Meeting the demand for healthcare is challenging as the population ages.

There was a decrease of 5pc in people waiting on trolleys this year compared to 2015.

Nothing to get excited about but a "step in the right direction," he insisted.

He said a detailed review of hospital bed numbers and where they are needed is to get under way.

He accepted waiting lists are unacceptably high and the €50m will be targeted as patients waiting longest.

There will be no cherry picking of patients, he insisted. Commenting on the revelation that Lloyds pharmacy had to pay back €12m to the HSE over the manner in which it boosted its income through a scheme for elderly medical card holders, he said he viewed it very seriously. This was money that could be used for badly needed health services, he added.

Sunday Independent

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