Saturday 21 April 2018

Ireland's seemingly never-ending trolley crisis: What the Ministers have said

Health Ministers Dr James Reilly, Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris
Health Ministers Dr James Reilly, Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris
Jason Kennedy

Jason Kennedy

Only a few days into 2017 and Ireland is facing its biggest recorded trolley crisis. We take a look back at how the problem has grown over the last five years,


A mild winter and lower levels of flu helped slash trolley numbers from 569 in early January 2011 to 344 recorded on 16 January, 2012.

The 2011 figures, mainly due to extreme weather, saw many patients suffering from  flu or respiratory illnesses.

Then Minister for Health James Reilly stated that there were still too many patients lingering in trolleys for more than 24 hours, but that targets were achievable.

The following month, one woman spoke out after her mother (81) was left waiting overnight for a bed at the Emergency Department at Galway University Hospital.

Sheelagh Conway, from Loughrea, Co Galway, said she encountered chaotic scenes at hospital, which she likened to a battlezone.

"People are lying like dogs on trolleys all over the corridor. People are in corners. I had to sleep on the floor beside my mother's trolley. There was not even a chair in the cubicle in the emergency ward,” she told the Irish Independent at the time.

"I'm extremely upset. She is 81 years of age. Women like my mother have been the backbone of the country. And this is the way they are being treated now.”

In July that year, then Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said that Reilly was “winning the war on trolley numbers”.

Mr Buttimer, now a Senator, said that figures for that time showed there was a dip of around10,000 people having to wait on trolleys, compared to 2011.

Altogether, there were 66,308 people on trolleys in 2012, according to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).



After the decline in trolley number between 2011 and 2012, figures rose once again in 2013. A total of 67,863 people spent time on trolleys across Ireland throughout the year, a two per cent increase on the previous year.

Speaking on a video released on Fine Gael’s YouTube channel, Minister Reilly said that the Irish health care system showed great promise.

“I’ve often said we have some of the best doctors in the world and some of the best world and indeed some of the best managers in the world are Irish. So how, in the name of God, is it that we don’t have one of the best health services in the world?

“I’m not interested in spin. I’m interested in reality. The reality is we have a very serious problem. “



During 2014, there was a jump of close to 10,000 people waiting for a hospital bed on trolleys. By the end of the year, a total of 77,091 people had spent time waiting for beds.

In January, The INMO claimed that there were 467 people on trolleys, wards and emergency departments on January 8. They added that claims that overcrowding had been reduced were untrue.

Nurses in Limerick Regional Hospital claimed was in "utter chaos" with 36 patients on trolleys in the emergency department.

The Limerick nurses took industrial action two years prior to this over patient safety concerns but staff shortages had continued, they warned.

In the cabinet reshuffle of July 2014, Leo Varadkar replaced James Reilly as Minister for Health.

The following month, Varadkar turned down a request to spend 12 hours on a shift at one of the country's busiest hospitals.

Staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda said the Dublin TD can only get to grips with the crisis in the health system by seeing what happens himself.

However, the minister, a qualified doctor, told the Irish Independent he could not take up the offer for insurance reasons.



In 2015, the number grew substantially, with 92,998 people having to wait for hospital beds, according to the INMO.

At one point in January, crisis-hit hospitals were grappling with 584 patients on trolleys.

Footage filmed by visited the hospital in Drogheda this afternoon, as visitors complained of “wall-to-wall” trolleys and “shocking overcrowding” to witness first-hand the situation ins Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, one of the country’s leading hospitals in 2015.

The topic led to a heated Dáil debate, where Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin stated that up to 600 people were left on trolleys awaiting a hospital bed that week.

The Cork TD also produced an election leaflet which showed the Taoiseach pledging to end the trolley crisis.

Mr Kenny said the Government acknowledged that the issue was not acceptable and a proper response was now being implemented.

"This is an area now that is part of a priority focus by the Minister to see can this be dealt with,"  Mr Kenny told the Dail.

Varadkar said he wants more patients on trolleys moved to hospital wards from overcrowded emergency departments and corridors - even though the situation will still be "unsafe".

He added that he had been in regular contact with Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the crisis in emergency departments, adding that they had become "very close" in recent months.

Former Health Minister James Reilly has refused to accept personal responsibility for the overcrowding crisis in Emergency Departments.

"I'm not the Minister for Health so I can't address that question."

He added: "Minister Varadkar has a very difficult job to do. This is always a difficult time of the year and I am fully supportive of his efforts to address the needs of people who find themselves in need of medical attention over the coming months.”



At one point at the start of the year, the number of patients on trolleys waiting more than nine hours for a bed was higher than on the same day in January 2015, according to the HSE's own figures.

There were 455 on trolleys in emergency departments countrywide on the morning of January 12. Of these, 201 were waiting for a bed for more than nine hours.

Minister Varadkar visited the emergency department of Portlaoise Hospital that morning, where earlier around 18 patients were still waiting for a bed.

The Dublin TD said it would be unwise for any politician to promise to eliminate entirely the problem of hospital patients having to wait on trolleys.

“Anybody who makes such promises does not understand the true complexity of what we face in the health service,” he said.

In May 2016, Simon Harris was appointed Minister for Health after the year’s General Election, in which former Minister for Health James Reilly lost his seat.



Just a few days into 2017, a record 612 patients were on trolleys or wards waiting for admission into hospital on one day. The country’s Winter flu outbreak was blamed by most for the problem’s scale.

Wicklow TD Simon Harris said he is sorry for patients and staff enduring the “extraordinarily difficult” situation at Irish hospitals.

"I really am sorry for Irish patients and indeed for the staff working in our hospitals experiencing the conditions that they are having to put up with at the moment.

"It isn’t acceptable, the health service must do better,” he said.

Mr Harris has moved to distance himself from Transport Minister Shane Ross’s suggestion that he would “kick ass” to solve the hospital trolley crisis.

He dismissed the Independent Alliance Minister’s comments and insisted he would rather focus on taking actions than engaging in “buzzwords or political soundbites”.

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