Doctors warn: 350 deaths due to trolley crisis

Three hundred and fifty people will die needlessly in hospital emergency departments next year unless Health Minister Simon Harris definitively addresses the trolley count crisis in next week’s budget.

The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) issued the dire warning last night as it urged the Government to prioritise health, despite promises of tax cuts and across-the-board welfare payment rises.

With the budget now just four days away, the Irish Examiner understands the Coalition is still planning a €5 pension increase, similar rises for lone parents and people on the dole, and a new welfare payment for children at risk of poverty.

In addition to these moves, which well-placed sources said would cost up to €300m, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are continuing to back income tax and USC cuts — drastically reducing the money available for other areas.

However, in a clear warning last night, doctors said vital life-saving service improvements cannot be ignored.

In a damning statement as it emerged that 516 people were on hospital trolleys on Wednesday — the “highest figure ever for that date” — and as official figures showed a shocking 678,800 people are now on waiting lists, the IAEM said that if the budget does not tackle the scandal, up to 350 people will die next year.

“We know that crowding kills patients; 300-350 patients per year are likely to die as a direct result of emergency department overcrowding.

“The past 15 years has been characterised by committees, taskforces and a variety of talking shops, bluster and claims of improvement in the absence of improvement.

“How long more will it take and how many more patients will have to die before political responsibility is acknowledged and the problem definitively addressed?” the IAEM said.

The comment came after Mr Harris — who will tell doctors they cannot “shy away from” the fact they must stop treating private patients in public hospitals at today’s Irish Hospital Consultants Association AGM — spent yesterday negotiating with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

While both ministers discussed a potential 50c prescription charge cut to €2, NTPF waiting list funding, disability services, and primary care, Mr Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have publicly stressed the health service must live within its 2017 levels due to competing demands.

Meanwhile, several sources said the Government is still considering across-the-board welfare rises of up to €5 for pensioners, lone parents, and people on the dole, in addition to a new welfare payment targeted at children at risk of poverty, the package costing €300m.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also confirmed plans for new “shared” accommodation developments for young professionals, amid vocal opposition; the retention of the help to buy scheme; and the axing of apartment car park space requirements.

At the launch of its alternative budget yesterday, Fianna Fáil public expenditure spokesperson Dara Calleary said welfare increases “won’t be miserly”, but added tax cuts will be at a “gentle pace” and that USC may not be cut by the suggested 0.5% rate.

Ministers are continuing to hold talks with Mr Donohoe before Tuesday’s budget announcements.

Extra spending

- Eamon Quinn

The Government last night signalled an increase in expenditure this year but the monies are earmarked to meet pledges to repay water charges and meet the cost of Christmas bonuses.

And the Estimates of Receipts and Expenditure published last night showed little signs of any unexpected hikes in spending in 2017.

The estimates forecast tax revenues will run out at €50.6bn this year. That’s unchanged from the Summer Economic Statement, as well as estimates made at the time of the budget last year.

Current expenditure this year is estimated at almost just over €51.25bn.

The budget deficit this year is estimated at 0.3% of GDP.

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