Attendances at hospital emergency departments increased by more than 2% this year compared to the same time last year, it has emerged.
ED attendances increased by almost 3% last year, following a 4.3% rise in 2016.
HSE national director of acute hospital services, Liam Woods, said an additional challenge was the sustained increase in the number of older patients attending EDs.
Last year, hospitals reported a 6% increase in the number of older people attending EDs, with some experiencing a 10% rise.
Mr Woods told a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health there had been a 3.5% increase in older people attending EDs this year to date, compared to the same period last year.
He said patients aged over 75 years had more complex care needs and were more likely to be admitted to hospitals and stayed longer.
“This means that the available capacity is under increased pressures as we do not have sufficient patient discharges every day,” he said.
Trolley numbers increased during the first four months of this year but had stabilised from April onwards, with May showing a 2.5% improvement against the same period last year.
Mr Woods said that during the 2017/2018 ’flu season, the number of ’flu cases and outbreaks exceeded all previous records in Ireland, including the 2009 pandemic.
The impact was particularly severe for those aged over 65 years, with 2,218 confirmed hospitalised ’flu cases and 85 admitted to intensive care.
Mr Woods said that at the end of June, there were 511,415 people on waiting lists for a first outpatient appointment and 78,014 waiting for a surgical procedure.
Last year, the number waiting reached a high of 86,100, but the most recent figures show a fall of more than 8,000, or 9.4%, in less than 12 months.
Latest figures showed that 58% of patients on a waiting list for an inpatient or a day case procedure were waiting less than six months and 83% are waiting for less than 12 months.
However, the outpatient waiting list remained a “significant challenge” with over 511,000 waiting for an appointment.
Mr Woods said it was worth noting that last year 477,000 outpatients did not attend for their appointments.
He said the validation of waiting lists was an important part of the outpatient action plan that was being finalised.
It emerged yesterday that University Hospital Limerick had 37 admitted patients on trolleys or on wards awaiting a bed — the highest number, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
The hospital’s chief executive, Colette Cowan, who also appeared before the committee, said the new ED opened just over a year ago.
“This time last year approximately 179 patients would go through the ED. This year we seen a growth of 5.5% in activity — 210 patients on average per day go through the ED,” she said.
Over the year, there had been an increase of 2,000 in the number of people aged 75-plus attending the ED — a 5.9% increase — and 30% of them would be admitted.
Ms Cowan said they were in discussion with GPs in the area about establishing an urgent care centre.
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