Health Minster Leo Varadkar said the trolley crisis in the country’s Accident and Emergency departments will take years to fix.
Defending his handling of the health sector, despite 516 people waiting on trolleys yesterday, Mr Varadkar undertook a tour of hospitals to assess the overcrowding crisis for himself.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Varadkar accepted that while the number is high, it is at the worst time of the year and it is down on January 2015 when it was 563.
“This is not a problem that’s going to be fixed quickly. We are in a better shape than we were this time last year, but still not good shape. Elective surgeries are being cancelled or not being scheduled,” he said.
“As you know, the first two weeks of January are traditionally the busiest time for our hospitals. We had a relatively quiet Christmas Eve and Christmas period, down to 50 on trolleys on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
“But the past few days have been very busy. A lot of patients have been admitted to hospitals across the country and this morning there were 400 patients on trolleys and another 100 waiting for a bed on a day ward,” he added.
“That is down, about 15% on last year, but we still have some acute overcrowding in a number of hospitals,” the Dublin West TD said.
Mr Varadkar, who has come in for severe criticism over the failure to contain the numbers of people on trolleys or the length of time it is taking to be treated, insisted everything is being done to reduce the numbers.
“Everything is being done to open beds that are closed, to discharge patients. We are asking people who can avoid emergency departments to do so. Only go if you are sent by your GP or if it is life threatening,” he said.
He said Ireland is no different to every other country in experiencing overcrowding at times in our health service and that it will take a long time to fix the crisis.
“I don’t think anyone ever claimed everything would be fine in the New Year. What was said is that we make incremental progress over the coming years, which is going to require a sustained focus, sustained investment and sustained improvement in management,” he said.
Fianna Fáil Health spokesperson and TD for Cork North-Central Billy Kelleher described Mr Varadkar’s comments as “quite extraordinary”.
“This Government is in office almost five years, we’ve had two ministers for health and Fine Gael told the whole country they had a costed credible plan for the health service which they have since been forced to abandon,” Mr Kelleher said.
“It’s is simply not good enough for Minister Varadkar to glibly say in an interview ‘we’re nowhere near where we need to be.’ Perhaps he’d like to do something about it,” he said. “Eight weeks out from a general election what he really needs to do is deliver the beds and staff needed to improve the situation for patients,” Mr Kelleher added.
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