79 patients stuck in public hospital beds for six months due to lack of step-down supports
The true scale of the hospital overcrowding crisis has been revealed in new figures showing scores of patients have been needlessly languishing in beds on public wards for at least six months.
Older People Minister Jim Daly admitted a prolonged stay can be a danger due to risk of infection.
But the HSE figures reveal that by the middle of September there were 745 patients who had not been discharged despite being deemed medically fit.
A hold-up in providing vital step-down care, including homecare, a nursing home place, rehab or other supports, left 79 patients tying up beds since last spring.
Another 155 patients could not leave for between four weeks and two months.
Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Mid-West John Curran, who obtained data on waiting times from the HSE, said the plight of these patients was "unacceptable".
He said: "We do not have enough home help hours or step-down facilities. Acute hospital beds are filled for longer than they should be, and emergency department wait times grow. More and more families are struggling to care for an elderly loved one and are desperate for home support services."
He pointed to 382 patients confined to hospital for more than a month. "Older people want to be in their own homes and not to be stuck in hospitals," he said.
The blockages come as there was a spike in trolley numbers yesterday. Hospitals ran out of beds for 610 patients - a level not normally seen until the worst of the flu season.
Mr Daly said delayed discharges showed a "frightening number of bed nights lost".
He told a conference on homecare, organised by Home and Community Care Ireland, he expects to be able to unveil how the planned statutory State homecare scheme will work in January.
The scheme, which is due to start in 2021, will involve the person receiving the homecare undergoing a means test and asked for a co-payment.
HSE care is currently free and there is no means test but it has a waiting list of around 7,000.
Referring to the upcoming Budget, he said he could not say at this stage how much additional funding will be given to the HSE for homecare, but he estimates that between €40m-€50m would wipe out waiting lists.
Joseph Musgrave, chief executive of Home and Community Care Ireland, which represents private providers, most of which are contracted by the HSE, said around 7,000 more carers will need to be recruited for the proposed statutory scheme.
"There is already a shortage. So we need more funding for training and apprenticeship schemes," he added.
Among the speakers was former Fine Gael minister Nora Owen, whose husband Brian has dementia.
She paid tribute to the late comedian Brendan Grace with whom she featured in a moving documentary highlighting the 'Forget-me-not' choir.
He had helped to break down the stigma which still exists around dementia. "You tend to be quiet about it," she said.
His work will highlight to the Government that more care is needed for families who are affected by dementia, she said.