HSE chief Tony O’Brien, who has just taken over the emergency department taskforce, says he hopes to have 440 additional acute hospital beds open over the winter to ease overcrowding.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, warned yesterday it would ballot members in hospital emergency departments next month if critical issues were not addressed.
According to the INMO’s trolley watch yesterday 434 patients were waiting on trolleys for beds in hospitals across Ireland.
Mr O’Brian has admitted that the numbers staying too long on trollies was higher than he thought was safe or sustainable going into the winter.
He told a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health last night that hospital group chief executives were working to have additional acute capacity in place next month.
Plans were already made for the provision of 300 additional beds and it was hoped to open beds that were closed for essential upgrades and for infection control purposes.
“As a result of these combined initiatives it is hoped to have 440 additional beds open during this winter period,” said Mr O’Brien.
INMO emergency department nurse representatives warned the system was at breaking point and they feared for patients’ and their own health and well-being.
The INMO’s executive council said a nationwide ballot of ED members would go ahead in November if significant progress was not made in four critical areas identified by the representatives.
The nurses want unsafe staffing levels to be addressed, greater and consistent support for ED staff from hospital management, an increased senior clinical presence in ED departments and increased access to diagnostics.
In particular, they want an immediate health and safety review to conducted by an independent expert who would report back within four weeks and an immediate review of all hospital escalation policies.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said it was apparent from the INMO’s meeting with nurse representatives on Monday they were beyond breaking point.
“The INMO, in making this decision, is acutely aware that industrial action, in any area of the health service should only be a last resort. However, after 12 years of waiting for improvements, and unfulfilled promises, the time for action is now.”
The INMO said it decided to defer the commencement of any ballot following its “constructive engagement” with Health Minister Leo Varadkar at its meeting to discuss the ED crisis.
Mr Varadkar told the Health Committee that while there had been a fall in the number of people waiting on a trolley for more than nine hours, morning peak overcrowding had not improved and was still worse than the same time last year.
Mr Varadkar said the additional beds were funded and everything was being done to get them by November 1.
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