A&E crisis is not easing - but promised beds are still weeks away
The opening of more than 20 of the additional hospital beds promised to ease the trolley crisis has been delayed for several weeks.
The delay comes as many patients continue to endure dangerously full emergency departments across the country, with 508 people on trolleys waiting for beds yesterday.
University Hospital Limerick struggled to care for 44 patients who needed beds and Cork University Hospital was also suffering severe congestion for the second week in a row.
However, it emerged that several of the extra beds, which were announced by Health Minister Simon Harris as part of a package of measures in response to the crisis, cannot be rolled out for now.
These include beds promised as far back as September in the 'winter initiative' plan, which was supposed to avert a crisis.
Some 12 of the those 55 beds are still idle.
Another 11 of the extra beds announced last week, as hospitals reached meltdown, will also not be opened until next month.
All the beds are dependent on having enough nursing staff to cater for the patients who will be placed in them.
Hospitals that are still waiting for these extra beds include Tullamore Hospital, the Mater Hospital Dublin, and St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny.
University Hospital Galway has been allocated more funding than originally planned to open 28 beds because it could not be used elsewhere due to a lack of staff.
Patients and hospital staff are braced for weeks of overcrowding ahead with the risk of another major spike in attendances as the temperatures plummet.
There were 174 patients waiting more than nine hours for a bed yesterday morning compared with 159 on the same day two years ago, according to the HSE's own figures.
A report on the toll taken by last winter's flu shows it officially claimed the lives of 84 patients and hospitalised 1,856.
The flu circulated for around 10 weeks. A particularly troublesome virus which can cause a hacking cough is circulating this winter.
The severe symptoms can be suffered by people who catch the adenovirus.
It can infect the airways and the intestinal tract with common complications such as pneumonia and meningitis. It can be potentially severe for people with lowered immunity.
Meanwhile, efforts are to begin tomorrow to avert industrial action by nurses from next month.
They are demanding added incentives to encourage more nurses to apply for jobs in the health service and relieve shortages.
Exploratory talks are to take place between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the HSE.
The nurses have balloted by a margin of 90pc for action which could be triggered at the beginning of next month.
It would initially involve a work-to-rule and see nurses refuse to be redeployed.
This would mean if there is a shortage in the emergency department, they could not be moved from another ward to make up for the shortage.
Meanwhile, the nurses' union last night warned that its members in Cavan will engage in industrial action if the HSE goes ahead with a plan to move patients from Cavan Hospital to Virginia community nursing unit.
The union said the unit had 26 beds with a potential capacity for a further 30 - but the extra staff necessary made safe patient care an issue.