Rate of patients on trolleys falls but still ‘in crisis’

The number of people forced to be treated on hospital trolleys has fallen by 17% in a year — but is still a massive 33% higher than when the crisis was first labelled a “national emergency”.

Figures revealed at the opening of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s annual conference show that despite a recent drop in cases, Ireland’s emergency unit overcrowding crisis is continuing to cause havoc to patient care.

According to the union, which provides daily trolley counts, in the first four months of this year a total of 26,106 patients were forced to put up with the sub-standard service.

This compares to 31,516 in the first four months of 2011 — representing a drop of 17% nationally and 23% in the greater Dublin region, where much of the bottleneck occurs. However, INMO general secretary Liam Doran urged people to put the figures “in context” and to not wrongly believe the crisis is over.

He said the trolley levels in the first months of 2011 were the worst ever seen, partially the result of the arctic weather which hit the country, meaning there was always likely to be a fall. And noting the 2007 acceptance by then Health Minister Mary Harney that the situation was a “national emergency”, he said today’s rate is in reality 33% higher than it was then.

“While good work is happening we still have so much more to go to address it [the crisis]. It’s no surprise that we have a number of black spots with regard to emergency overcrowding because they simply do not have enough bed capacity to cater for demand of the patients presenting. That means the trolley figures are getting worse in some hospitals,” the union chief said.

Among the facilities with the worst rates over the past five years is Cork University Hospital, which has seen a near doubling of trolley count levels, from 1,237 between Jan and Feb 2007 and 2,299 in the first four months of this year. The nearby Mercy University Hospital had 569 patients on trolleys in the four-month period in 2007 compared to 595 in the period this year.

Other facilities struggling to cope with demand include the Mid Western Regional Hospital in Limerick (569 to 1,264); University Hospital Galway (766 to 1,942); and the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar (59 to 1,105). Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, described by Mr Doran as “the best example of management gone mad”, has seen a rise from 1,235 to 2,422.

355 people were waiting on trolleys yesterday, with Drogheda, UHG, CUH and Beaumont accounting for almost 40% of this rate.


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