There is little sign of hospital overcrowding subsiding, as yesterday saw 523 patients on trolleys, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association.
University Hospital Limerick (UHL) was worst affected, with 46 patients on trolleys, while Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, had 40. Beaumont Hospital in Dublin had 38.
Tuesday saw 518 patients on trolleys, with Limerick again the highest, at 54. A director was appointed yesterday at University Hospital Limerick to help ease the crisis by relocating elderly patients.
A spokesperson for UHL said: “Among the key factors contributing to the increase in pressure within the ED [emergency department] is the increase of the flu virus and the older age profile of patients presenting, along with the complexity of issues they have. As a result, we are experiencing delays in discharging older patients home or to other appropriate settings.”
Health Minister Leo Varadkar pointed out that between 250 and 260 patients were being admitted to hospital daily, many with “influenza like” illnesses.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said patient care was being compromised by the trolley situation, with hospitals overcrowded and staff overworked.
However, he said the last five weeks had seen what was probably the most determined concerted effort by everyone involved to try to deal with the problem.
He said delayed discharges were still a problem. More continuing care beds had to be opened, contingent on getting staff, he said.
Mr Doran said the INMO accepted that flu was a contributing factor to hospital overcrowding, but members sensed that delays in planned admissions were also to blame.
“February and March are always bad times. We have to do more, we have got to find more beds and we have to find more staff and that is a growing problem now.”
While local hospital managers had agreed to fund more staffing posts, it would be difficult finding the staff.
“We are talking to the HSE this week about 173 beds being opened across the country... A problem there would be finding the staff, but that still won’t be enough because we have much more to do in terms of restoring the bed capacity we lost through five years of cutbacks.”
The Irish Medical Organisation said the emergency department crisis would not be resolved until additional beds were made available across the hospital system.
Clinical adviser of the HSE’s national hospitals division Dr Colm Henry said the problem of delayed discharges had worsened in the past year but there had been a great deal of activity and a great injection of funding to deal with the problem.
He said they had not been faced with a flu epidemic.
Mr Varadkar said approval had been given to open up 173 beds in 15 units across the country for a 13-week period to address possible flu-related admissions. He said the units were in the process of recruiting staff, where it was established there was an urgent service need.
“The HSE has the capacity to recruit where it is necessary to deliver front-line services,” he said.
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