Winter of rising trolley numbers forecast as HSE initiatives fail to fix crisis
Emergency departments are on course for a nightmare winter, as the numbers left waiting on trolleys continue to rise in many hospitals.
Records compiled by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) show that 57,674 patients admitted for care spent time on an A&E trolley in the first seven months of the year.
Health Minister Simon Harris has been in contact with chiefs in the HSE to "express his concerns" and seek assurances "that actions are being taken to address this urgently".
However, the INMO says the latest figures show a series of initiatives already taken by the HSE are failing to make a significant impact.
"The record levels of patients on trolleys, in the first seven months, is most alarming as we prepare for the autumn/winter period," INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said.
"These figures are further confirmation that our health service continues to be too small and, regardless of the initiatives that have been taken, demand continues to outstrip the capacity of the health service to provide timely, appropriate and dignified care."
He argued the minister must prioritise community nursing services and solve the "recruitment/retention crisis facing nursing".
Separate figures this week showed that nearly 6,000 people aged over 75 were among those left on trolleys for more than 24 hours.
The HSE said 615,874 patients attended an Emergency Department (ED) in the first six months of the year. This is an increase of almost 2pc on 2016.
The health body also pointed out that the population is ageing, which translates "into increased reliance and usage of scheduled and unscheduled care resources".
"The HSE recognises the importance of a system-wide focus on improving patient experience times, particularly in respect of older persons.
"To this end, the Integrated Care Programme for Older Persons, in conjunction with acute hospitals and respective community-based services, is implementing a comprehensive programme of improvements aimed at increasing hospital avoidance, improved patient pathways, as well as timely and safe discharge for older persons," the HSE said.
It added there has been an overall reduction of 1.6pc in the numbers on trolleys when compared to last year.
The Department of Health said the HSE's Special Delivery Unit has been working closely with those hospitals currently experiencing ED pressures "to improve patient flow and to reduce the number of patients on trolleys".
Mr Harris will be meeting with HSE officials and the National Treatment Purchase Fund next week to address waiting times for hospital procedures and trolley numbers.
"The Department of Health and the HSE are currently working intensively on the development of a plan to be implemented over the coming months aimed at improving access to emergency care and reducing trolley numbers," a spokesperson said.