Record 100,385 patients without hospital bed

The number of hospital patients without a bed has exceeded 100,000 for the first time as the Government prepares to warn the elderly about dangerous long stays in hospitals as part of its winter health plan.

With one month still to go, 2018 has emerged as the worst year on record for hospital overcrowding, new figures show.

The unprecedented number of patients on trolleys and chairs across hospitals comes as nurses continue to ballot on whether to strike over pay.

Any industrial action coupled with the worst hospital overcrowding ever could create what doctors predict may be the “perfect storm” in hospitals over the winter.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) released figures yesterday showing that 451 patients were without beds across hospitals, bringing the total for 2018 so far to 100,385.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “It’s not even December and we’ve already broken the record for the most patients on trolleys. Behind these statistics are vulnerable individual patients, forced to wait in unsafe, uncomfortable conditions.”

And, amid the worst numbers on record, the Irish Examiner can reveal that the Government is planning to warn patients, particularly the elderly, about the risks of staying in hospital longer than necessary. This will form part of the HSE’s winter plan.

Junior health minister Jim Daly confirmed that the advertisement-backed campaign would warn about disease risks and ultimately help to reduce hospital bed costs.

“We will warn about the dangers in the campaign, because that is where people can catch disease,” said Mr Daly

told the Irish Examiner.

“We will communicate that this is the least safe place for an elderly person.” 

He said there is a need for earlier discharges from hospitals, with a bed in an emergency unit costing between €7,000 and €8,000 a week as opposed to €1,000 in a nursing home.

A review by the Department of Health this month recommended that “a public health campaign should be undertaken to raise awareness that patients are better off being discharged rather than being kept unnecessarily in the acute healthcare setting”.

Amid the worsening conditions, Nursing Homes Ireland CEO Tadhg Daly yesterday claimed there was “zero engagement” with his sector on discharges by Health Minister Simon Harris.

Nonetheless, Mr Harris’ department said HSE figures showed 91,000 patients were reported on trolleys so far this year. The INMO and the health authorities differ on how and when trolleys are counted.

The winter plan takes effect on Saturday and includes an extra 550 home care packages to help patients return home.

Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly said that “people are terrified of needing to go to their local emergency department”. Asked if the health system is heading for a ‘perfect storm’, he said: “I think we are in it right now.”

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