An elderly man has been on a trolley in an emergency department waiting for a hospital bed for five days.
The cancer patient was one of 40 people in need of a bed in the severely-overcrowded A&E unit in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. Medics have warned the crisis will only get worse in the autumn and winter unless dramatic steps were taken.
Several other people have endured four days on trolleys.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) described chaotic scenes in Drogheda’s emergency department, with two patients in every cubicle designed for one in the unit and three corridors packed with trolleys head to toe.
“It’s completely intolerable for staff and patients,” INMO industrial relations officer Tony Fitzpatrick said.
The union accused hospital management of reneging on a deal dating back to February this year which committed them to hiring an extra nurse for every admitted patient who had to wait in the emergency unit for a bed.
Mr Fitzpatrick also warned many of those on trolleys were suffering sleep deprivation as they were being forced to lie under fluorescent lights 24 hours a day.
“There is also the significantly increased risk of adverse medical outcomes – or worse, something being missed – as a result of overcrowding,” he said.
The INMO said the emergency department in Drogheda was short of five nurses in a hospital that this year recorded its highest level of overcrowding since 2006.
And the union also warned the dangerous conditions were being created by a combination of factors after the Government decided to close services in hospitals in Monaghan and Dundalk and move them to Our Lady of Lourdes without ensuring adequate resources.
“Members of the INMO are at breaking point and will not tolerate the incessant overcrowding and unsafe conditions for patients,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.
The INMO’s daily trolley watch report revealed 40 patients in need of a bed on a ward were on trolleys in Drogheda’s A&E, and another eight were lying on trolleys in corridors elsewhere in the hospital.
It said 5,480 patients have spent time on trolleys in the hospital’s emergency unit or in overcrowded wards from January to August this year – an unprecedented level of overcrowding for the usually quieter summer months and a level not seen in nine years.
Nationwide there were 282 people on trolleys awaiting transfer to beds in wards with 214 of them lying in A&E units.