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Doctors fear worst is yet to come for crisis-hit health service


Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital. Photo: Collins, Dublin.

Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital. Photo: Collins, Dublin.

Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital. Photo: Collins, Dublin.

Doctors fear the worst could yet be to come for the embattled health service - as the number of patients on trolleys reached a new record high.

An unprecedented 677 people were on trolleys and on wards awaiting a bed in hospitals nationwide yesterday, according to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

The unprecedented figures were up from a previous high of 656 recorded on Tuesday by the body.

A leading hospital consultant warned Emergency Departments are like "war zones" as the trolley crisis worsens. Dr Emily O'Conor, president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine also raised concerns the so-called 'Aussie flu', which is one of the two dominant strains circulating at the moment, could be life-threatening to children with the number of infections expected to rise when schools re-open next week.

Meanwhile, Dr James Gray, an emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital, told the Irish Independent that "we are officially in the influenza season" pointing out that both the A (H3N2) strain, dubbed the 'Aussie flu', as well as Influenza B are both circulating at the moment.

"And if the Australian experience is anything to go by, we are going to be in for some torrid times here in Ireland."

He said the trolley crisis had become a "year-round crisis, and not a winter crisis like we used to have a few years ago".

"It's an emergency that keeps on going and nobody seems to be able to deal with it," said Dr Gray. "We were in the same situation last year."

"We are in the eye of the storm now," he said.

He referred to the figures showing a record number awaiting a bed nationwide, saying: "It's unacceptable having anybody on a trolley.

"They are patients who have had their ED care, they have been seen by the ED doctors and because of lack of bed capacity these patients are languishing on trolleys.

"There are solutions to this and the primary solution is bed capacity. We have lost a total of 1,600 beds in the acute hospital system in the last decade.

"Although there is a modest improvement in bed capacity, overall, demand has increased much more so," Dr Gray said.

He said scheduled care got reduced to "almost zero when we have these sort of surges on top of surges".

"When you have a surge on top of a surge like we are having, that scheduled care gets cancelled to try and optimise the bed capacity," he said. But he added it was a "false economy".

Dr Peadar Gilligan, a consultant in emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital, told the Irish Independent that by midday yesterday some 51 patients were either awaiting or receiving care in the department.

"Influenza cases are rising," he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation said the overcrowding crisis in hospitals exposes the perilous state of the health services.

In a statement, it said the shameful situation being experienced this week had its roots in years of under-investment and cutbacks across the health service.

"This isn't a flu crisis or a temporary blip ... this chaos is the reality of our health services today. Department of Health figures confirm that we are effectively running an emergency service only on a year-round basis with elective procedures now down to a trickle. In the UK it is seen as an option of almost last resort to cancel elective procedures while we in Ireland do this routinely which has led to a situation whereby 80pc of admissions are emergency admissions."

The latest flu figures will be released today and are expected to show a sharp increase in numbers affected, which will heap further pressure on overstretched GPs and EDs already dealing with a variety of flu-like and respiratory illnesses.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "It is vital that we begin to see an impact from the exceptional measures being undertaken to reduce overcrowding in our EDs."

He said he would be directly updated today by each hospital group CEO on this.

Labour Party health spokesperson Alan Kelly said: "Rising trolley numbers like these are not sustainable for patients, their families and the hard-working staff in hospitals."

Irish Independent