The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said today that the overcrowding crisis had reached catastrophic levels due to a lack of proper planning and investment.
The body's CEO Chris Goodey said: “A fundamental shift to GP-led primary care is a necessary change in the long-term approach to addressing the crisis in hospitals.
"GPs and the HSE agree that this is the right long-term approach to provide the best care to patients and the best value for money to the Government. However, while there has been much discussion by the HSE and the Minister for Health about making this change, there has been no investment in General Practice.
"In fact, funding has been taken out of General Practice and the profession is in crisis as a result."
A meeting between the Health Minister and HSE Director General is continuing this evening aimed at resolving the hospital overcrowding crisis.
Minister Harris said he had sent a clear message to the HSE that the current situation in Irish hospitals "is not acceptable".
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association says 578 people were waiting on a bed in hospitals across the country this morning – from a record high of 612 on Tuesday.
Minister Harris said the situation was not helped by the significant outbreak of flu, particularly among older people.
After footage emerged yesterday of long delays for ambulance crews in Limerick, trade union Unite said crews in Waterford are similarly affected.
The union said Dungarvan-based ambulance crews were being delayed for up to three and a half hours due to a backlog of patients waiting in emergency departments. In addition, they said that in order to comply with HIQA response times, crews from the Waterford area are being sent to Cork and vice-versa, reducing the number of vehicles available to respond to calls locally.
Unite Regional Officer Tony Kelly said: “These delays and bottlenecks are impacting not only on patient care, but also on the wellbeing of the ambulance crews providing that care. The shift overruns have a significant impact on family and personal life.
"At the same time, the delays in handing over patients while other emergency calls are waiting for response increases the stress for our members who are committed to providing the highest standards of service and care."
Meanwhile, Industrial Relations Officer with the INMO Maura Hickey called on the HSE to make contact with neighbouring hospitals in the North to assist with chronic overcrowding which she has described as being unsustainable.
This morning there were 46 patients waiting for beds in the wards in Letterkenny University Hospital.
Ms Hickey said: "This volume of overcrowding in Letterkenny University Hospital is not sustainable and cannot be allowed to continue. It is imperative that additional bed capacity (in both acute and continuing care) and extra home help and home care packages are provided, with full funding, immediately, to ease this crisis situation.
"These patients, waiting for beds in the hospital and community hospitals, are individual people who require admission. Their loss of dignity, privacy and access to care in an appropriate environment cannot be forgotten and should be the HSE’s priority."
NURSING HOME BEDS
Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) said a 'snapshot' survey it conducted yesterday showed that more than 700 beds were available within almost 200 nursing homes across the country, adding the actual number of available beds may be much higher as there are more than 370 NHI Member nursing homes and under 180 responded within the timeframe.
NHI CEO Tadhg Daly said: “Nursing homes are intrinsic to alleviating pressures within our acute hospitals."