Record 9,500 patients on trolleys last month

A record 9,500 patients ended up on hospital trolleys last month, the highest number for the month of March in over a decade.

This is despite the provision of extra acute beds, transitional care beds and step down beds, as well as additional home care packages and expansion of community intervention teams under the Winter Initiative Plan, as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) pointed out.

Cork University Hospital (CUH) recorded the highest trolley figure nationwide in March, at 716.

Second highest was University Hospital Limerick (UHL) at 699, followed by University Hospital Galway (UHG) at 638.

An INMO analysis of March trolley figures from 2006-2017 shows

  • A 101% increase in the numbers since 2008 when the recession officially took hold.
  • An improvement between March this year and last year in figures for the Eastern region (down 29%) but a 16% increase for the rest of the country.
  • A 107% increase at St James’s Hospital, Dublin, up from 162 in 2016 to 336 in 2017.
  • A 1% increase overall in the March 2016 and 2017 figures.

The INMO said it was clear the measures contained in the €40m Winter Initiative, announced last September by Health Minister Simon Harris, were not enough to tackle the trolley problem.

“The plan set a maximum target of 236 for the number of patients on trolleys each morning.”

However, the figures were 82% over the target in March.

It is, therefore, clear the measures taken to date are not enough and more must be done,” said INMO general secretary Liam Doran.

He said the INMO had pointed out at the time that because the plan failed to address the difficulties in recruiting and retaining nursing staff, it “ran the risk of falling short, in terms of implementation”.

“Additional services, either in terms of acute beds, step-down beds and/or community intervention teams are dependent on there being additional nursing staff.

“It remains the stark reality that without nurses and midwives we cannot meet current demand let alone in the future,” Mr Doran said.

He said a recent deal, accepted by the INMO, on staffing/recruitment/retention “represents just the first step, in a three-year programme which must see nurse/midwife employment levels increase to over 40,000 from its current level of 35,600”.

Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said the figures showed there had been “no let-up in the trolley crisis in our A&E departments”.

She said urgent action was needed.

The overcrowding crisis in emergency departments and outpatient wards will be discussed at the INMO’s forthcoming annual delegate conference in Wexford on May 3-5.

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