Monday 27 January 2020

Hospital overcrowding 'at its worst' as 118,000 on trolleys

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

Hospital overcrowding is the worst it has ever been, as more than 118,000 patients went without a bed in 2019.

The Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation's (INMO) end-of-year analysis has revealed the 118,367 people waiting on trolleys last year is 9pc higher than it was in 2018.

More than 1,300 of the patients were children younger than 16.

The worst months for overcrowding in 2019 were November (12,055), October (11,452), and September (10,641).

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The worst-hit hospitals in 2019 included:

  • University Hospital Limerick - 13,941;
  • Cork University Hospital - 11,066;
  • University Hospital Galway - 7,993;
  • South Tipperary General Hospital - 6,942;
  • University Hospital Waterford - 6,313.

The INMO said under-staffing and a lack of capacity were the key drivers of overcrowding in Irish hospitals.

According to INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, there are 411 fewer inpatient beds in hospitals today than a decade ago, despite a larger, older population.

"Things are getting worse, not better," she said.

"These figures should be falling, but we're going the wrong direction. 2019 saw thousands more patients without proper beds - often at one of the most vulnerable points in their lives.

"Overcrowding used to be a winter problem. Now it's an all-year problem, which gets worse in winter.

"The most frustrating part is that we know how to solve this problem: increase staffing and bed capacity; expand community care; and get going with the Sláintecare reforms."

She added that changes would not be made without sufficient investment and an end to the recruitment ban.

The figures come as Health Minister Simon Harris urged people with suspected flu symptoms to avoid going to their GP or attending hospital unless absolutely necessary.

He made the plea as the latest figures from the HSE said half of the 187 patients on trolleys in A&E wards today are suffering from the flu, which has claimed 19 lives so far this season.

Although health officials believe the number of flu cases is already higher now than the peak of 53 per 100,000 population which occurred at the height of flu season last year, Mr Harris said we were not out of the woods yet.

"We feel the flu may have peaked, but we still have another five weeks of the flu season left," he said.

In response to the INMO's end-of-year analysis, the HSE partially credited the spike in hospital admissions to the impact of the current flu season.

"The attendances at emergency departments (EDs) are up 7pc in December 2019 compared to the same period last year," a spokesperson said.

"In the week running up to Christmas Eve, the ED attendances were up by 14.2pc on the same week last year, with attendances by persons over 75 up by 24.9pc on the same week last year.

"The health system is working hard to cope with the increased demand for services and GPs, community services and hospital staff are dealing with very significant surge in workloads."

Irish Independent

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