Tuesday 28 March 2017

Up to 350 patients dying a year due to lack of critical care beds – top doctor

Nearly one in five patients nationally has waited on a trolley for more than nine hours for a bed this year (Stock picture)
Nearly one in five patients nationally has waited on a trolley for more than nine hours for a bed this year (Stock picture)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Up to 350 patients a year may be dying due to a lack of critical care beds, a top doctor has warned today.

Speaking at a medical conference today, emergency consultant Dr Fergal Hickey said around 300 to 350 patients a year may be dying due to a lack of critical care beds.

This is on top of a similar number who may be dying due to emergency department overcrowding.

He pointed to delays in getting patients a bed in the neurosurgical unit of Beaumont Hospital which is costing lives.

It's time to stop 'lusting after false gods' by looking to more services outside hospital in primary care as the solution to  hospital overcrowding , he said.

Earlier, another top doctor warned that the hospital crisis will worsen this winter and a a  potential major calamity is looming.

The grim forecast was made by Dr Tom Ryan, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association who said emergency unit overcrowding is a reflection of a failing hospital system.

He warned that to date we have been fortunate that we have avoided 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 organisation's annual conference in Kilkenny.

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 budget, 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, emergency consultant Dr Fergal Hickey said around 300 to 350 patients a year may be dying due to a lack of critical care beds.

This is on top of a similar number who may be dying  due to emergency department overcrowding.

He pointed to delays in getting patients a bed in the neurosurgical unit of Beaumont Hospital which is costing lives.

It's time to stop 'lusting after false gods' by looking to more services outside hospital in primary care as the solution to  hospital overcrowding , he said.

Primary care  can cater for more patients with ongoing illnesses but cannot deal with patients with acute complex needs, he told the gathering.

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 underway.

He said 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 viewed it very seriously.

This was money that could be used for badly needed health services, he added.

He declined to say if he believed that HSE should make a formal complaint to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland about the manner in which the pharmacy chain operated the scheme.

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