Wednesday 17 January 2018

'I have seen people needlessly die because of overcrowding' - A&E consultant

Emergency consultant Fergal Hickey.
Emergency consultant Fergal Hickey.
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A leading hospital consultant said he has seen people "needlessly die" in his emergency department as a result of hospital overcrowding in Ireland.

Dr Fergal Hickey, a specialist in emergency medicine at Sligo University Hospital, said up to 350 people will die "needlessly" in the next year if the situation does not improve in the Irish health service.

Speaking to RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland on behalf of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, Dr Hickey said one or two people "needlessly die" each year in his emergency department, and he believes it is the same elsewhere.

He also said he has to apologise to families for their experiences in the hospital.

"Yes, I have seen people needlessly die," Dr Hickey said.

"There is often a look at staff to see if they had done something differently, but it is impossible for emergency staff to provide care for patients in an overcrowded environment.

"We certainly see a few ["needless deaths"] every year, it might be one or two but it does happen," he continued.

"It's important we don't trivialise things... I've had to apologise to families for their experiences in the hospital."

Dr Hickey said Ireland requires an extra 9,000 beds if we were to reach the OECD average of acute hospital beds per a population of 1,000, but acknowledged this wasn't realistic.

"We're avoiding the key issues, which is the shortage of beds," he said.

"It worsened during austerity when 1,800 beds were removed. If we were short before, we're short now.

"So far there has been no effort to address this. People are trying to deal with small issues, but it's moving deck chairs around the Titanic.

"The OECD average of acute hospital beds is 4.3 per population of 1,000.

"Ours is 2.8. That requires an extra 9,000 beds. Nobody is suggesting this, but we do need the 1,800 we're short and a couple of hundred beds before that.

"Something in the order of 2,000 beds would fix this. We keep avoiding the issue in the hope it will go away," he added.

Health Minister Simon Harris responded to the interview, saying that the three key measures taking place were a bed capacity review, recruitment and new GP contracts.

The highest number ever recorded by the INMO was 612 patients waiting on beds on January 3, while 602 patients were recorded the afterwards.

Yesterday, there were 601 patients waiting on beds in hospitals around the country, the worst-hit hospitals being University Hospital Limerick and Cork University Hospital.

Today, there are 517 patients on trolleys.

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