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Hospital crisis is killing our patients, says A&E boss

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Sheila Malone (86) was forced to wait in a chair for 16 hours in the Beaumont emergency department last month after presenting with severe chest pains and vomiting.

Sheila Malone (86) was forced to wait in a chair for 16 hours in the Beaumont emergency department last month after presenting with severe chest pains and vomiting.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Nurses protest outside Beaumont Hospital. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Nurses protest outside Beaumont Hospital. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The A&E department in Beaumont Hospital earlier this month

The A&E department in Beaumont Hospital earlier this month

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Sheila Malone (86) was forced to wait in a chair for 16 hours in the Beaumont emergency department last month after presenting with severe chest pains and vomiting.

PATIENTS are dying because of the “horrendous” conditions posed by Emergency Department overcrowding which has continued for many years, a leading A&E doctor has warned.

Dr Aidan Gleeson is head of the Emergency Department in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital – which is currently under siege from serious overcrowding.

He said that patients left on trolleys suffer increased risk of harm or death.

“You have patients with heart attacks who are diagnosed late. Patients with pneumonia and sepsis may not be getting the resuscitation and antibiotics quickly enough because they cannot get the doctor to examine them. These are the realities,” he said.

“We have a national crisis in our Emergency Departments for years, where plenty of people are being hurt or dying as a result. Yet it is not receiving the same attention as something like Ebola – even though the chances of anyone dying of it in Ireland are extremely slim.”

His comments were backed by other emergency consultants who said they were “gravely concerned” about safety risks as the numbers of patients languishing on trolleys reached a record 601 across the country.

“Unless steps are urgently taken to transfer patients from grossly crowded emergency departments, it is inevitable they will die and others will have much worse medical outcomes than they should have,” the Association of Emergency Medicine warned. Health Minister Leo Varadkar, facing his biggest crisis yet, is due back from holiday today.

A spokesman said he has been in close contact on the matter, including holding discussions with HSE senior management.

Hospitals across the country continued to buckle under the strain yesterday with 45 patients waiting for beds in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. There were 41 people on trolleys in University Hospital Galway, 36 in Letterkenny General, 31 in Kerry General and 32 in Naas General Hospital.

Hundreds of patients who were due to be admitted were told their operations were cancelled and the HSE managed to only open around 400 of more than 2,000 closed beds, which are desperately needed to provide care for the very sick.

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The HSE has also only managed to transfer around 109 of the estimated 800 patients who need a nursing home or other home support in recent weeks.

Doctors and nurses warned that patients in some cases fell off trolleys because they were not being properly supervised.

Weak and frail patients, hooked up to drips, had to endure hours on chairs in some cases because there were no trolleys available - and others were put along corridors with no privacy or dignity.

The HSE continued to come under fire for failing to properly prepare for the inevitable influx of patients, many of them elderly with complex conditions who need to be in a hospital bed.

Beaumont Hospital cancelled all planned surgery for the week, except for cancer cases, to cope with the overcrowding.

Nurses in Beaumont voted in favour of industrial action from January 27. The work-to-rule will see them abandon all non-essential administrative work. They are warning they will escalate the action to work stoppages if there is no improvement.

A spokesman for the hospital said all available beds were now open. But there are still 96 patients who no longer need to be in hospital waiting for discharge to a nursing home or other support - the equivalent of three wards.

The Beaumont nurses' action is part of a wave of ballots for industrial action in hospitals across the country by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

Emergency department doctors dismissed Government claims about the "oft trumpeted" improvement in trolley numbers. "It simply hasn't happened," they warned.

"It is only with clear prioritisation, consistent political direction and far more active management by individual managers that the significant worsening of the situation will be halted and hopefully reversed.

"If this is not done, the avoidable but sadly predictable deaths of more of our citizens, visitors, friends and relatives will happen."

No firm date for a meeting of the Emergency Department Task Force has yet been fixed for this month, despite the crisis.

SIPTU last night called on the health watchdog HIQA to use its powers to enter the worst-hit hospitals and investigate safety risks.

The National Association of General Practitioners said there were significant patient safety concerns in telling people to avoid hospitals and go to their family doctor.

The organisation's secretary, Dr Keith Swanick, said: "To divert patients from a besieged emergency department network to a crippled GP system shows a complete lack of awareness of the current state of general practice. There are simply not enough GPs out there. The entire health system is crumbling around us."

Meanwhile, hospitals in the UK are also grappling with the worst crisis on record. Some had to set up make-shift wards using field tents in car parks.

One emergency department was likened to a "packed nightclub".

The hospitals are over-run, mainly due to the rise in the number of elderly patients who are coming to emergency departments, mirroring the situation in Ireland.


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