By Evelyn Ring
Pressure on the country's acute hospitals continued today with 517 admitted patients waiting for a bed on trolleys in emergency departments (EDs) or on wards.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation's (INMO) trolley and ward watch shows a 16% increase on the 445 recorded last year.
According to the HSE's TrolleyGAR, there were 381 patients on trolleys in EDs today, compared to 334 on the same day last year - a 14% increase in trolley waiters.
The INMO figures show that University Hospital Limerick had the highest number of patients on trolleys or on wards, with 52, and Cork University Hospital had the second highest, with 38.
According to the HSE, Galway University Hospital had the highest number of patients on trolleys in emergecny departments with 32, followed by St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny that had 29.
The health authority's figures also show that 197 (52%) of the 381 patients on trolleys were waiting over nine hours, with 37 waiting more than 24 hours.
By 2pm today, the number on trolleys in EDs had reduced to 249, according to the HSE, but 172 were waiting more than nine hours, and 31 were waiting more than 24 hours.
The number of children on trolleys was also high, at 17, with nine waiting over 9 hours. The number reduced to 11 during the day but eight were waiting over nine hours.
The HSE's head of acute hospitals, Liam Woods, was asked if hospitals were past the peak regarding trolley numbers this year and he thought they were.
“If we follow the trend of previous years we will see a trail off in trolley numbers,” Mr Woods told a HSE media briefing this week.
A build-up of patients with flu-like symptoms is mainly to blame, and pressure is not expected to ease until there is a fall-off in the flu rate, now thought to have peaked.
“Right now we would like to have a little more space available, but it is not there to any great extent,” he said.
Around 100 patients have been moved to private hospitals in Cork and Dublin over the past few weeks, but Mr Woods said those hospitals were also full.
Asked if that would cause a problem, he replied: “It would be better if they were available.”
While urgent surgery, including cancer surgery, is continuing, very little planned surgery is taking place.
Mr Woods said because of pressure on EDs patients were sometimes moved into daycare areas to relieve pressure.
The HSE has a plan to deal with patients waiting for non-urgent medical and surgical procedures which will “kick in” once the pressure from the flu abates.