Additional reporting by Evelyn Ring
Hospital overcrowding would have been solved “a long time ago” if it was down to more beds, more staff and more money, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that overcrowding was “very severe” today when 610 patients were waiting for beds in the country's acute hospitals.
According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) 424 patients were waiting on trolleys in emergency departments, while 186 were on wards.
University Hospital Limerick, with 81 patients waiting, was the worst-hit hospital, a record figure reached on four occasions since April.
Cork University Hospital was the second-worst hit with 58 patients waiting while the Mater Hospital in Dublin had 40.
There were 10,641 admitted patients left waiting for a bed last month, the worst month so far this year, according to the INMO.
The figures also show that last month was the worst September on record for overcrowding.
INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, described the situation as “beyond sustainable” and that capacity was at the root of the problem.
“We need more beds and more nurses and midwives to staff them. The HSE's disastrous recruitment pause simply has to go,” she said.
“We have now seen 80 consecutive days where the trolley figures are higher than 2018 – often by as much as 50%,” she said.
A woman complained that her 70-year-old mother spent 105 hours on a trolley in University Hospital Limerick.
Alona Troy from Bruree in Limerick took her mother to the hospital on September 23 after she contracted an infection linked to her chronic illness.
Because of a lack of beds her mother was left on a trolley for four and a half days.
“When she became clearer on Friday, Mam said to me: 'If there's a fire or a gas leak here, people are going to die, because there is no possible way they could evacuate that accident and emergency',” Ms Troy said.
610 people waiting for hospital beds, and over 30 people on trolleys in 8 hospitals at 8am.October 1, 2019
Mr Varadkar apologised to patients "who deserve much better" than to have to wait for a hospital bed and said he had been assured by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, that action was being taken.
More beds were being added to the hospital system and a shortening of the waiting time for Fair Deal, the State's nursing home support scheme, to about four weeks, was helping to reduce the number of delayed discharges - patients who had finished the acute phase of their care.
“If this was down to more beds, more staff and more money, we would have solved it a long time ago,” said Mr Varadkar.
“We have never spent more money on our health service. We have been adding extra beds for seven years now.
"We have never had more staff. It takes a lot more than additional resources. That is a simple solution.
The president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Dr Donal O'Hanlon, warned that any additional strains on acute hospitals could very quickly move the current position of “constant crisis” to “catastrophe.”
He warned that a bad flu season coupled with a shortage of emergency medicine and intensive care hospital consultants increased the risk of reduced quality of care for patients this winter.