Overcrowding crisis: Hospitals tell flu sufferers to 'stay away from A&E'
Outbreak sees record number wait on trolleys
Hospitals warned patients to stay away from emergency departments unless absolutely necessary, as the country faced a flu epidemic and overcrowding hits crisis levels.
Medical staff said they were at breaking point, with a record 612 patients on trolleys, and the rate of flu doubling within the past week alone.
The HSE confirmed that one person has died as a result of flu - the predominant AH3 flu strain is affecting mostly older people. The pressure on hospital services has been exacerbated by a severe respiratory virus sweeping across the country, as well as the norovirus, or the winter vomiting bug.
A HSE spokesperson said that many hospitals were reporting a "significant surge" in demand as the number of cases of winter-related illnesses continued to rise.
"While the HSE expects this spike in demand for ED care to continue in the coming weeks, the situation will continue to be carefully monitored," a HSE spokesperson said.
Some hospitals asked patients to stay away from emergency rooms unless strictly necessary and to seek treatment from their GP initially.
A spokesperson for Tallaght Hospital said: "The hospital's full capacity protocol is in place, and the public is asked to attend their GP in the first instance, where appropriate."
Beaumont Hospital added: "Like many other hospitals across the country, Beaumont is requesting that patients with cold and flu symptoms who may be considering coming to the ED to first contact their GP."
Health Minister Simon Harris admitted that hospitals faced a "challenging time ahead", but denied that there was a national emergency and said there had been a sharp spike in cases of flu over New Year.
But the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) claimed the situation was "totally predictable".
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said: "2016 saw the highest levels of overcrowding since our records began over 12 years ago. We have to think about 180 beds closed because of staff shortages and generally about the lack of community care services."
A record-breaking 612 patients are waiting on trolleys in hospitals around the country.
Further chaos looms in hospitals as nurses will start industrial action within weeks. It will ultimately mean nurses will insist on bed closures if there is not enough staff to cater to them.
But Mr Doran said questions must be asked as to what measures were taken over the past eight weeks to alleviate the trolley situation. "612 patients, admitted for care, for whom there is no bed, is a truly shocking figure," he said.
The HSE said that 21 respiratory infection and influenza outbreaks were reported this season in healthcare settings.
"There has been a significant increase in the numbers of persons aged 75 years and older presenting for treatment and care," a spokesperson said.
"These patients are typically twice as likely to be admitted to hospital, and in turn, are likely to have a length of stay that is twice that of the general population.
"Due to the rise in winter-related illnesses, hospitals are also reporting bed closures due to necessary infection control measures and staff illness."
The HSE, which uses a different counting method to the INMO, said its figures identified 489 people waiting on trolleys - 300 over nine hours.