'Never any lull in A&E': trolley crisis now lasts all year round
Flu season seems like a distant memory, but hundreds of patients are still languishing on hospital trolleys around the country.
Hospitals which endured the worst-ever winter trolley crisis are continuing to struggle with overcrowding during the summer, with little respite during the warm weather.
Emergency consultants are now growing increasingly worried that vital time will be lost in the weeks and months ahead, plunging hospitals into further chaos by autumn.
There were 324 patients languishing on trolleys yesterday, with University Hospital Limerick enduring the most severe gridlock as 46 waited for a bed.
Cork University Hospital had 42 patients, many waiting hours for a bed, while Tallaght Hospital was also under severe pressure.
Dr Emily O'Conor, spokesperson for the country's A&E consultants, said: "We were promised extra beds, but I see no sign of them."
A&E departments continue to treat high numbers of elderly and very sick patients.
Ms O'Conor said the pressures are added to by the numbers of patients on waiting lists who face long delays for diagnostic scans and are forced to go to A&E instead.
The strain on GP services is also a factor, with more patients opting to go to their A&E for care. Figures from the HSE's own monitoring yesterday showed 93 patients were waiting for a bed for more than nine hours, with 20 patients on trolleys for more than 24 hours.
"I suppose the Health Minister Simon Harris has been very distracted with other issues," she said. "We are just wondering what is happening about extra beds. Perhaps there are fabulous plans being made."
A report published earlier this year recommended 2,500 additional beds of various kinds be brought on stream to ease overcrowding.
Dr O'Conor warned that staff should be being recruited at this stage to ensure they are in place for the autumn to service these promised beds.
"None of us emergency consultants is aware of what is happening," she added.
"We had been promised 500 by the end of the year. Is it happening, is it not happening?
"Have they hit hurdles?"
She said there are hospitals that are not coping at any stage of the year. "There are some hospitals which see an increase in attendance in the summer because of tourists," she said.
Dr O'Conor, who works in Connolly Hospital, said the units are getting people who have been on waiting lists for months or years.
"The whole place is creaking. There is never any lull in emergency departments," she said.
"You have the very sick who come in with sepsis, heart disease, respiratory failure or trauma. We also have a contingent of people whose symptoms are not immediately life threatening and need diagnostics."
The HSE, meanwhile, is heavily in the red and its half-year deficit may be as high as €300m with a risk of autumn cuts.