Flu may worsen trolley gridlock for two more months
The flu season could last for another two months - leaving hospital emergency departments grappling with serious levels of overcrowding for weeks to come, it emerged yesterday.
Nationally, 492 patients were languishing on trolleys waiting for beds yesterday, with 113 moved to wards in a bid to bring some relief to congested emergency departments.
And hundreds of other patients were also forced to stay at home after their surgery was cancelled in order to free up beds in a number of hospitals including Cork University Hospital and the Mater Hospital.
Fergal Hickey, spokesman for emergency consultants, warned that the flu season, which is adding to the trolley gridlock, is only beginning and could last for another eight weeks.
Five people have already died from the effects of flu this winter and three patients with the flu were admitted to critical care last week.
There was an increase in flu cases among the over-65s and young children.
Mr Hickey said appeals by hospitals asking people to go to their GP if possible will have little or no impact because the sickest patients needing a bed will have to come to the emergency department.
"These are not a group of patients who can be diverted elsewhere. It keeps getting preached," he said.
However, he admitted that some of the patients whose surgery is being postponed may end up in the emergency department after developing complications.
"The key thing is that we have too few beds. We need to deal with this and stop hoping the problem will go away."
The HSE's figures showed that 188 patients were waiting more than nine hours.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar conceded that hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and he could not rule out a worsening in overcrowding in the coming weeks.
He said the demand was unprecedented, with a 10pc rise in attendances.
Although more beds are being brought onstream, they cannot keep pace with the numbers of patients who need admission, he added.
The minister said that patients whose surgery has been cancelled will not be put to the back of the queue and will be given priority to have the operations re-scheduled.
Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Cork University Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda were struggling yesterday with patients having to endure the blockages and jam-packed conditions for hours.
Other hospitals where patients had to brave overcrowding were University Hospital Galway, Sligo Regional Hospital and Limerick Hospital.