Sunday 18 August 2019

Frail patients among record numbers on hospital trolleys

Pressure: Health Minister Simon Harris at Dublin Dental University Hospital yesterday to launch the ‘Smile agus Sláinte’ dental health policy. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Pressure: Health Minister Simon Harris at Dublin Dental University Hospital yesterday to launch the ‘Smile agus Sláinte’ dental health policy. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Eilish O'Regan and Ralph Riegel

The wintry start to April has led to a surge in many frail and elderly patients attending hospital A&E departments in recent days, fuelling the trolley crisis.

Doctors ran out of beds for 594 patients across the country yesterday morning.

University Hospital Limerick endured its worst day of overcrowding on record with 81 people spread across the hospital on trolleys.

A spokesman for the Limerick hospital said A&Es nationwide have seen a surge in patients in recent days, many who are elderly with complex medical conditions.

Pressure escalated in the 24 hours up to midnight on Monday as 239 patients poured into its A&E, followed by 236 on Tuesday.

The congestion was complicated by the need to keep 13 patients in isolation for infection control in the A&E due to a shortage of these facilities in the hospital.

The spokesman rejected claims by nurses that the closure of a 17-bed medical short-stay ward was making the bottleneck worse and insisted 22 beds have opened elsewhere in the hospital.

But he added it has just over 450 inpatient beds. "This is recognised as not being sufficient for the needs of the midwest region," he said.

Some €2m is being spent on a new 69-bed block.

But Mary Fogarty, of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, warned the overcrowding was "intolerable" and she called on Health Minister Simon Harris to intervene.

"This is the worst-ever figure we've recorded in an Irish hospital," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris was warned in a blunt phone call to Cork health chiefs about hospital overcrowding that Ireland's second city needs to be "given a break" and desperately needs extra hospital capacity.

A sudden flood of admissions at Cork University Hospital (CUH) emergency department on Tuesday put enormous pressure on the hospital with the situation so serious it was raised in the Dáil.

A 'Status Black' condition was declared - acknowledging that the backlog was threatening to have an impact beyond the emergency department.

It had 70 patients on trolleys. That had dropped to 50 patients yesterday.

Mr Harris contacted Cork health chiefs on Tuesday to determine the cause of the sudden overcrowding problem - and was left in no doubt about what was needed.

"We need to redesign and put capacity back into the system," CUH clinical medical director Mike O'Connor said.

"We took a call yesterday from the minister who clearly was asking 'What the hell was going on in the hospital? What are you doing?' We were very clear about what we were doing. We were very clear back - crystal clear - that we need to be given a break.

"The people of Cork need to be given a break - give us some capacity back."

The HSE said while the winter period initiatives are coming to an end, acute hospitals are continuing to see growth in attendances that are not flu related.

"Many of the patients presenting require longer periods of hospitalisation due to underlying conditions and frailty.

"Therefore hospitals are focussing on ensuring patient discharges are being planned in advance, early access to diagnostics is available and that senior clinical decision-makers are seeing patients as early as possible to enable patients who do not need to be admitted to leave.

"So far 43 of 75 promised extra beds are open with the remaining subject to the completion of staff recruitment."

Irish Independent

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