HOSPITAL patients who are being being moved from congested A&E departments to overcrowded wards or corridors are at risk of cross-infection and not getting a safe level of care from busy staff, nurses have warned.
The drive to reduce the numbers of people on trolleys in emergency units means more patients are moved "up house" and find themselves packed as "extras" in wards or corridors.
An average of 79 patients a day are being placed in overcrowded conditions, according to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
The union will now start issuing a daily 'ward watch' along with its usual tally of patients on A&E trolleys.
"It is always shocking to see a patient on a bed in a corridor. If there are three bed spaces in a ward and a fourth patient is added, then there is no dignity and no curtain around their bed," said INMO president Claire Mahon.
"Infection-control guidelines are not being upheld. The nurses are stretched and the quality of care they can give is diluted."
The union said that on the basis of figures it had compiled in recent weeks, the worst offenders were Connolly and Tallaght hospitals in Dublin; Wexford General; Limerick Regional; and Mullingar hospital. It is also happening regularly in hospitals in Galway, Sligo and Tullamore as beds lie closed.
In total, there were 299 patients on A&E trolleys and another 85 on wards or corridors, according to the figures.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said the hospital with the worst record was Limerick Regional Hospital. Over four weeks in 2012, it had 271 patients in the A&E on trolleys; but this year, during the corresponding month, the number went up to 733 when those moved "up house" were counted.
He said the evidence was that the relocation of patients in this manner was not easing overcrowding in the A&E department.
The A&E department in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, which was at the centre of an investigation for overcrowding, is still experiencing patients on trolleys for four days.
The union said the key solution to the problem was to open closed beds, of which there were currently around 2,000 in acute hospitals and public nursing homes.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that overcrowding wards reduces the level of overcrowding in the emergency department in the same hospital," Mr Doran said.
"While the overall reduction of 7pc in daily trolley-watch figures, since the same period in 2012, is welcome, this new measure confirms that serious capacity problems remain, which must be addressed.
"We are calling on Health Minister James Reilly, notwithstanding the pressures from the troika, to increase bed capacity in every hospital regularly facing overcrowding."
Responding to the union, the HSE disputed the transfer figure of 79 patients a day and said its research showed it was 49.
It said it was safer to move the patients in-house than leave them in an overcrowded A&E when "used appropriately".
Meanwhile, Mr Reilly has insisted none of the country's 49 acute hospitals will be closed.
"None of the 49 acute hospitals will be closed," he said at Ennis General Hospital, where he officially opened a new, €9m 50-bed wing.
Mr Reilly confirmed that the smaller hospital report would be published in the next few weeks, and added: "We don't have the capacity in the system to allow them to close. We have an ageing population and a growing population and we have to change the way we deliver care in this country, and that is not unique to Ireland."
Dr Reilly said the report and the establishment of hospital groups "will secure the future of the smaller hospitals because they will see that they have a very definite future".