Saturday 20 October 2018

'It is clear a national emergency is now in place', says INMO as record number waiting for beds

  • Some 677 patients on trolleys
  • INMO: 'It is clear a national emergency is now in place'
  • Nursing staff request urgent meeting with HSE
  • Record number waiting for beds
  • GPs 'out the door' with flu patients
Beaumont A and E on January 2 - the worst day on record for people waiting for a hospital bed
Beaumont A and E on January 2 - the worst day on record for people waiting for a hospital bed

Laura Larkin and Fiona Dillon

There are even more people waiting on trolleys in Irish hospitals today - surpassing record levels for a second day in a row.

According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) there are 677 people on trolleys in hospitals around the country today - up from 656.

The record numbers come ahead of peak flu season which is heaping pressure on the health system.

St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny remains the most overcrowded hospital in the country today with 54 people waiting for a bed.

University Hospital Limerick has 53 people on trolleys, while in the Midlands Regional Hospital in Tullamore there are 42 people on trolley today.

In the capital St Vincent's Hospital has 30 people on trolleys, making it the most overcrowded hospital in the city.

The INMO has sought an emergency meeting of the ED Taskforce, amid fears of burnout among staff, and is awaiting confirmation from the HSE that same will take place today or tomorrow.

 In a statement the INMO said it is receiving a number of distressed calls from members who describe intolerable working conditions and inhumane conditions for patients.

INMO General Secretary, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, said the situation is now at the level of a national emergency.

“It is clear that a national emergency is now in place and certain locations simply cannot cope," she said.

"These record numbers are unacceptable.  It is intolerable for both patients and staff endeavouring to provide the best care possible to them.”

Meanwhile, there are fears the situation will deteriorate further, as health experts estimate cases of flu will not peak for another three to four weeks – and won't decline until the middle of February. Health experts predict there will be a large increase in cases over the coming weeks, which will heap further pressure on an already over-stretched health service.

The National Association of GPs said that some of its members have been “out the door” with flu cases since Christmas.

CEO Chris Goodey said: “The entire health service is under incredible strain. GPs are absolutely inundated with patients with flu and they are feeling completely overwhelmed.”

Some one million stocks of the flu vaccine were ordered and around 930,000 have been distributed, as calls were made for at-risk groups to get vaccinated.

Stephen McMahon, chairman of the Irish Patients’ Association, said that GPs were already over-stretched.

“I think GP practices are at tipping point in some areas,” he said. “Some patients already face a wait of two or three days to get an appointment.

“I will be very watchful for the impact on GP surgeries and overcrowding and the knock-on effect in emergency departments and the impact on the numbers on trolleys.”

Kildare GP Dr Brendan O’Shea, director of the Post-Graduate Resource Centre with the Irish College of General Practitioners, said he had witnessed an increase in cases of flu through his work there as well as in his practice.

Emily O’Connor, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, said a worrying new development was for young patients to be waiting on trolleys at children’s hospitals.

Last month, an outbreak of a viral infection known as respiratory syncytial virus strained resources at the three hospitals.

“It happened a bit over the last number of years but by December all out paediatric emergency colleagues were telling us they had trolley waits,” she said. “For the paediatric hospitals to have patients waiting on trolleys, that’s a new phenomenon.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the three children’s hospitals said the number of patients on trolleys across the three EDs was “very low”.

Dr O’Connor, a consultant at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, predicted the latest figures on cases of flu, due to be released tomorrow, would show “significant levels of flu”.

In 2006, then health minister Mary Harney declared a national emergency after more than 495 were waiting on trolleys.

Health Minister Simon Harris said that he met again with senior staff in his Department today and continues to be regularly updated by senior officials in the HSE.

"It is vital that we begin to see an impact from the exceptional measures being undertaken to reduce overcrowding in our EDs and tomorrow I will be directly updated by each Hospital Group CEO on this," he said in a statement on Wednesday evening. 

"While recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we must continue to ensure the lessons that can be learned from those hospitals performing better are applied across the system.  

"I want to reassure the public that all the Winter Plan measures funded by increased investment by Government, like increased access to home care, transitional care and diagnostics along with additional acute bed capacity, are being implemented to deal with the extra pressures our health service is experiencing.

"I've today made very clear to the HSE that they have my support in taking any enhanced measures necessary to help increase discharges, most particularly access to diagnostics, senior clinical attendance and community supports."

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) released a statement on Wednesday saying that the overcrowding crisis in hospitals "exposes the perilous state of the Irish health services".

"This isn’t a flu crisis or a temporary blip...this chaos is the reality of our health services today."

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