Saturday 23 February 2019

Trolley crisis: Health Minister says number of patients on trolleys is 'not acceptable'

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 Kathy Armstrong

There were 656 patients on trolleys around the country this morning, the highest number ever recorded.

The count is the worst on record according to Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO)

Previously the highest number of patients on trolleys was 612 - which was recorded on January 3.

St Luke's Hospital in Co Kilkenny is the most overcrowded hospital in the country today - there are 57 patients awaiting a bed in the hospital today.

University Hospital Limerick is the second worst hit hospital in the country with 55 people on trolleys.

South Tipperary Hospital has 45 people on trolleys today.

Meanwhile, in the capital St Vincent's Hospital has 29 people on trolleys, while Beaumont and the Mater have 25 people on trolleys each.

The new figures come as 2017's overall figures showed an overall increase on people on trolleys jumped of 6pc.

Some 98,981 admitted patients were recorded as awaiting a hospital bed.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the health sector is entering a "difficult few weeks" and added that he is in regular contact with the HSE in relation to measures being taken across the country.

The annual hospital trolley crisis has returned
The annual hospital trolley crisis has returned

"All of those who work in our hospitals and communities, along with the HSE and my Department will continue to work to meet the increased demand, introducing a number of exceptional measures. We will also continue to increase bed capacity and drive the reform our health service needs," Minister Harris said. visited the Mater and Beaumont this afternoon, where the overcrowding was evident.

In Beaumont A&E there were more than 20 people seated in the waiting room.

One woman, who did not want to be named, said that she had been there for hours and expected that she wouldn't be able to go anytime soon.

She said: "I've been here for about four hours now, I had an accident at home and I was checked in and looked over when I first arrived but since then I've just been sitting here and there doesn't seem to have been much movement.

"I've heard people talking about the flu and now the Aussie flu and you'd wonder how the hospitals will cope if it gets much worse.

"You can't fault the staff because they do seem to be doing their best but there just doesn't seem to be enough people working or enough beds or enough anything really."

Inside the A&E around 15 people could be seen on trolleys and other patients sitting on chairs.

Some were elderly and hooked up to drips, a few were also wearing protective masks to cover their mouths.

A man said that he was waiting to be treated for an infection.

He said: "I arrived yesterday evening and I was here for a few hours and then we were told we'd be better off coming back this morning when there would be more staff on.

"I came back this morning and was seen straight away, now I'm just waiting the last few hours on the results of a blood test.

"I was chatting to one woman yesterday and she seemed really unwell, she told me she had arrived at around 1pm and she'd been there for about eight hours and hadn't been seen yet - it's a disgrace."

There were similar scenes in the A&E ward at the Mater Hospital.

There were patient on trolleys and chairs, while busy hospital staff cared for them in the crowded room.

Dr Tom Ryan, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said that today's record number of patients on trolleys requiring hospital care was entirely predictable and unacceptable.

He said the crisis is due to the fact that acute hospital in-patient bed numbers were cut by 1,400 in the past decade when they should, at a minimum, have been increased in tandem with the country's growing and ageing population trends.

Phil Ni Sheaghdha, the newly appointed General Secretary of the INMO, said frontline staff have been "abandoned."

“Overcrowding in late December and early January is getting worse. Despite investment in winter plans, smaller hospitals are now severely overcrowded which is manifestly unsafe and leads to higher cross infection and poorer outcomes for patients," she  said.

"Nursing staff, constantly working in this high pressure, unsafe environment, cannot be expected to put up with this obvious neglect of duty of care to them and the patients they try to care for any longer. It appears to me, that staff and patients, on the front line, were abandoned while the system shutdown for Christmas and the New Year.”

University Hospital Limerick recorded the highest annual number of 8,869; Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Galway recording 6,815 and 6,563 respectively.

Damien McCallion, National Director Emergency Management & National Ambulance Service told RTÉ's News at One that smaller hospitals will find it more difficult to overcome the current trolley crisis.

"Certainly it will take a number of days for our medium sized hospitals to get themselves back into, what we would call,  a more reasonable state," he said.

He said hospitals are likely not to have scheduled elective surgeries this week as it was expected to be a pressurised week.

He acknowledged that the HSE needs additional capacity and said greater investment in that are is needed.

However, he said a number of steps were taken in advance of this week to educe the pressure on hospitals where possible including an investment in home-care services, reviewing patients who had been in hospital for seven days and extended diagnostic services.

The Mater University Hospital in Dublin was the capital’s most overcrowded hospital with 5,238 patients on trolleys during 2017; and

Smaller hospitals such as Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan showed increases from 595 in 2016 to 2435 in 2017 and Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe recorded 1,569 trolley figures compared with 892 in 2016.

The record number of people on trolleys this morning comes ahead of the peak flu season which is expected to put additional pressure on services.

Almost 200 people have been hospitalised with the flu and a small number - less than 10- of people have died.

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