Patients going into Cork University Hospital (CUH) on Monday night were greeted by a poster telling them the hospital and its emergency department were in a state of ‘black escalation’ — which means it was not safe.
The poster, put up at 6pm, told those entering they faced an “average” wait of 12 hours which was likely to lengthen over the night.
Black escalation status means the hospital is, according to HSE guidelines, in a “critical position and clinically unsafe”.
By yesterday morning, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said there were 70 patients on trolleys at CUH — University Hospital Limerick had just two less, at 68.
In the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald asked Tánaiste Simon Coveney if he agreed with her that “that is the sort of situation that puts patient and staff at serious risk and it is unacceptable”.
Mr Coveney replied: “The deputy is right that a serious challenge has arisen in CUH as of last night and again today. We are responding with the seriousness that is needed.”
He said the number of patients waiting on trolleys in CUH yesterday morning was “exceptionally high”.
Ms McDonald said the status black escalation is a declaration that a hospital is no longer safe.
“I described the scenario for the Tánaiste, with ambulances lined up outside the hospital and one that I know of that waited for more than four hours to hand over a patient,” she said. “This is a very serious accident waiting to happen and it is playing out on this Government’s watch.”