541 languish on trolleys as staff shortages shut beds
Minister 'failing miserably', while HSE warns €14bn funding for 2017 is not enough
Staff shortages have forced the closure of nearly 200 hospital beds at a time when the number of patients languishing on trolleys is surging, it has been claimed.
Yesterday, emergency departments struggled to cope with one of the worst days of overcrowding this winter as 541 patients waited for a bed on trolleys. This was despite a pledge in the Government's winter initiative plan to have no more than 236 patients on trolleys in the morning.
However, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation warned a lack of staff meant 180 acute beds had had to be closed.
The latest figures marked a deterioration compared with the 331 patients waiting on trolleys on the same day last year. The figures indicated this year the trolley crisis has reached new heights earlier in the season.
Nurses, who are expected to ballot for industrial action this week, said there were 140 nurse vacancies in emergency departments. They were without one in 10 of the nurses needed to run the departments at a time when there was an increase in the number of patients.
Many patients were elderly and needed a high level of care and should be in a hospital bed.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on Health, Billy Kelleher, accused Health Minister Simon Harris of "failing miserably".
"Clearly, the €40m allocated by Minister Harris earlier this year was not nearly enough to deal with the overcrowding in our emergency departments."
Marie Lynch of the Irish Hospice Foundation expressed concern about patients in these conditions who were at end-of-life. "One in 10 people who die in hospitals die in the emergency department. Four-fifths of people who die in hospitals have been admitted this route," she said.
There were 48 patients on trolleys at Cork University Hospital and a similar number at University Hospital Galway, while St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin was overwhelmed as 34 patients endured long hours on trolleys before getting a bed.
A HSE spokesman said emergency departments had seen one million patient attendances to the end of October - a rise of 4.9pc compared with 2015.
Patients were increasingly in need of being admitted to hospital and could not be sent home which put more pressure on beds. He said the winter initiative - the plan to tackle emergency overcrowding - was providing €40m of extra funding to help alleviate pressure.
"Considerable progress has been made to date and continual efforts will be made across the system throughout the winter months to improve patients' healthcare experiences," he said.
"All hospital groups and community hospital organisations have their own targeted joint winter plans and are fully engaged in the process."
The Cabinet was yesterday briefed on the HSE National Service Plan for 2017, setting out how it would spend the €14bn it was getting to run the health service for the year.
However, it was already not enough and would not extend to allowing the HSE to invest in the replacement of vital hospital equipment.
The minister said the plan would include extending medical cards to 9,000 children covered by the Domiciliary Care Allowance.
In March, the cost per item of prescription charges will reduce from €2.50 to €2 for the over-70s with medical cards. There will be an increase in homecare packages for children and an extra €1.5m for the ambulance service.