A “modest investment” in elective surgery during the winter surge in hospital activity is the practical solution to the predictable annual crisis, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland has claimed.
RCSI president, Kenneth Mealy, said people's frustration and annoyance with the current hospital overcrowding crisis and its impact on planned surgeries across the country was understandable and justifiable.
“We share the frustration of the public, healthcare staff and indeed that of the HSE chief executive, Paul Reid,” said Mr Mealy.
“The current situation which sees patients across the country on trolleys, demoralised staff working to provide high-quality care under immense pressure, and elective surgical patients having their surgeries cancelled must be addressed."
RCSI said the current approach to reducing waiting lists by providing €100m each year to the National Treatment Purchase Fund was “wasteful” and “did nothing” to protect elective surgery that decreased by 15% when the winter surge in demand occurred each year.
Mr Mealy said it was important to clarify that elective surgery was not optional surgery – cancer surgery was elective because it was scheduled in advance.
“Elective surgery is often critical, urgent and life-saving and, in many cases, patients will have already waited a considerable period of time for their surgery,” he pointed out.
Mr Mealy said ring-fencing elective surgical beds in the country's acute hospitals would go a “long way” in preventing the annual crisis.
“In Cork, for example, Cork University Hospital and Mercy Hospital have both been instructed to stop elective surgery. South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital has the capacity and modest investment there would allow for increased elective surgery for patients in Cork year-round."
He also suggested that some form of public-private partnership that would see the public system buy theatre time and beds for scheduled elective surgeries from the private hospitals would provide immediate relief in for public hospitals and reduce waiting time for patients.
Meanwhile, there were 579 admitted patients awaiting beds in acute hospitals on Tuesday, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
University Hospital Limerick was the worst affected hospital with 51 patients waiting, followed by Mayo University Hospital that had 46 and University Hospital Galway with 43.
Last week was the worst ever for hospital overcrowding with over 3,000 waiting for a bed, according to an analysis by the INMO.
The 760 patients on trolleys on both Monday and Tuesday last week was the highest ever numbers on a single day.
INMO members count admitted patients waiting for a bed in the emergency department and on wards.
According to the HSE's TrolleyGAR that only records patients in EDs there were 376 waiting on trolleys on Tuesday, with 174 waiting over nine hours for a bed. This represents an 11% decrease when compared to last year when there were 423 patients on trolleys, with 193 waiting over nine hours.