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Health Minister confirms 199 additional beds will be made available to combat record trolley numbers


Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.

Health Minister Simon Harris at a HSE briefing

Health Minister Simon Harris at a HSE briefing


Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.

The Taoiseach has claimed that a "very severe flu season" has exacerbated the level of overcrowding in the country's hospitals.

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the trolley crisis has reached a record level, with 760 admitted patients waiting for beds.

The union said it is the worst figure since records began.

It comes as the Minister for Health Simon Harris confirmed that 199 additional beds will be made available by the end of the month to help the bed crisis.

Mr Harris also said that 50 additional beds have been opened on Monday.

"A total 199 additional beds will be in place by the end of this month. Some of those beds will be in our hospitals and some will be in the community setting," Mr Harris added.

"It's also in our plan to hire more doctors and we need more hospital consultants.

"We actually had some pretty good months in 2019 but we're navigating a very, very rocky patch and it comes back to the fact that we need more beds, more staff, both of which were increasing."

He said there are plans to put 2,000 extra beds in Ireland's hospitals over the next two years.

Some 60 of these beds will be in Limerick while around 40 beds will be in Clonmel.

Mr Varadkar confirmed that the hospitals are "severely overcrowded".

He said that the HSE and hospital management would have the support of government in taking any actions necessary to "alleviate the situation" over the next couple of days.

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Mr Varadkar thanked hospital staff for "putting in Trojan effort" over the last few days.

"We have a long term plan in place to deal with that long term problem, and that is increasing the number of hospital beds, increasing the number of staff and increasing resources for social care and primary care in particular," he added.

"The particular situation we have at the moment is exacerbated by what is a very severe flu season and what was predicted - predicting a severe flu season is like predicting a bad storm - it doesn't stop that happening, it still happens."

The INMO said that the previous record was 714 patients on March 12 2018, during the Beast from the East.

INMO said the number of patients waiting on trolleys on Monday morning would more than fill Ireland's largest hospital, St James, which has 707 beds.

University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has also broken the daily record for an individual hospital, with 92 patients on trolleys.

The previous highest figure was 85, also at UHL.

INMO is calling for a major incident protocol to be adopted across the country.

This is likely to see all non-emergency admissions halted, elective surgery cancelled, and extra bed capacity sourced from the private and public sectors, it added.

INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said: "Ireland's beleaguered health service continues to break records in the worst possible way. Our members are working in impossible conditions to provide the best care they can.

"The excuse that this is all down to the flu simply doesn't hold. There are always extra patients in winter, but we simply do not get the extra capacity to cope.

"This is entirely predictable, yet we seemingly fail to deal with it every year.

"The Government need to immediately initiate a major incident protocol. We need to cancel elective surgeries, stop non-emergency admissions, and source extra capacity wherever we can.

"We also need to immediately scrap the HSE's counter-productive recruitment pause, which is leaving these services understaffed and thus overcrowded.

"Behind these numbers are hundreds of individual vulnerable patients - it is a simply shameful situation.

"This is entirely preventable if proper planning was in place."

It came as the SIPTU union said the overcrowding crisis in emergency departments is causing chaos for ambulance professionals.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said: "SIPTU representatives are demanding that the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) take immediate and effective action to relieve the immense pressure being experienced by ambulance professionals across the country.

"At the end of November, SIPTU representatives requested that the HSE and Department of Health agree a protocol for the handover of patients at emergency departments.

"Unfortunately, our calls were ignored and now we have an unacceptable situation where our members are reporting delays in some cases of between three-and-a-half and seven hours outside emergency departments as our now annual winter overcrowding crisis bites.

"It is outrageous that in 2020 Ireland patients are being treated in the loading bays of hospitals instead of hospital beds.

"This is not what quality patient care looks like, and this kind of chaos is starving communities of a safe and functioning ambulance service, particularly in areas of the west of Ireland and in the midlands."

The HSE has been asked for a response.

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