Hospitals 'at full capacity' and could not cope with a major disaster, HSE told
Hospitals in Ireland would be plunged into crisis in the event of a major incident, an expert has warned.
An internal HSE report has signalled hospitals are already struggling with a shortage of intensive care beds that are filled to overflowing and would not be able to cope if there was a high toll of patient casualties.
Some patients who should have access to critical care have "poor or bad outcomes".
A major disaster involving multiple casualties or a serious outbreak of a flu would leave hospitals totally overwhelmed.
The warning is made in a report by Dr Michael Power, clinical lead for the HSE's Critical Care Programme, according to the 'Medical Independent'.
He told senior managers that these units are currently "operating past full capacity daily with delayed and failed access for many critically ill patients leading to avoidable poor and bad outcomes".
"It is not feasible to plan for a mass casualty incident response given this decreased intensive care unit capacity," he said.
The stark scenario is set out in the report given to HSE director of acute hospitals Liam Woods and HSE national clinical adviser lead at acute hospitals Dr Colm Henry in June.
Hospitals are now having to cope with 10pc less critical care beds than nearly a decade ago, despite the growth in the influx of patients.
He said the additional beds are needed in 'hub' hospitals. These are at the heart of each of the regional hospital groups - but more revenue and capital funding are needed.
A survey of these beds in 2016 found there were 237 in adult hospitals. A further 22 were funded but non-operational.
Around 10 hospitals provide most of the critical care for patients, while the rest of the beds are spread among another 14 hospitals.
During last winter, 127 critically ill adults were admitted to intensive care units with flu.
This was a significant 133pc rise over admissions the previous winter.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday that while there have been 101 fewer patients on trolleys so far this month compared to the same time last year, the winter trolleys crisis is set to be "challenging".
He said he met with the Emergency Department Taskforce to put measures in place to ease overcrowding.
"€40m in additional funding has been made available to address winter pressures and waiting lists over the rest of this year," he said.
"This funding will be aimed at reducing overcrowding through the provision of extra capacity and additional supports.
"These include extra home care packages and transitional care beds, additional diagnostic services and surge capacity and support to drive public health campaigns, including flu vaccination.
"Funding is also being provided to increase bed capacity this winter in places such as Galway, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, Drogheda, south Tipperary and Waterford.
"So far 17 new beds have opened in University Hospital Limerick, 14 in St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, with a further 30 beds to be opened in Galway University Hospital this month."