Independent Government ministers have demanded the delivery of 500 additional hospital beds by the end of this year.
The demands are being made by some Independent Alliance ministers in a bid to avoid a similar trolley crisis, as witnessed last week, reoccurring next year.
The bed crisis has been exacerbated by the current flu outbreak, with experts predicting it will last another six weeks.
The HSE estimates that more than 23,000 people contracted the virus last week alone, with as many as 1,500 sufferers admitted to hospitals already under pressure after the Christmas holidays.
The HSE’s assistant national director for public health, Kevin Kelleher, said 4,700 people were treated by their GP for flu symptoms last week, but the overall numbers are far higher.
“In general terms, you’d expect that figure to be four, five times more in terms of how many people have got the flu because not everybody goes to their GP,” said Dr Kelleher. “So you can have a degree of multiplication.”
In terms of the 500 hospital admissions, for flu-related illness, the HSE public health expert said you could multiply this figure by three.
“We have one hospital in each of the hospital groups around the country and they give us very much more detailed information about respiratory admissions to hospitals,” said Dr Kelleher. “It’s only eight hospitals out of the 40-odd so you can’t say it’s comprehensive. You can guesstimate that it would be three or four times that number.”
Dr Kelleher said this year’s flu season is worse than last year’s and is expected to last another six weeks.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who has said an additional 191 beds have been added in recent weeks, will bring his bed capacity review to Cabinet in 10 days’ time.
Minister of state for disabilities Finian McGrath, who sits at Cabinet along with his colleague, John Halligan, have demanded a significant increase in the bed capacity in the country’s acute hospitals this year.
It has been claimed that, during a Cabinet discussion on Wednesday, Mr McGrath warned that the Government needs to “focus on the issue and we need 500 beds in 2018”.
Mr Harris is believed to feel that around 500 new beds are needed this year but financial approval for them has yet to be secured.
Mr Harris is committed to increasing bed capacity, delivering on the GP contract as well as progressing the Slaintecare reforms and won approval for that at Cabinet yesterday.
Last week, more than 25,000 people attended emergency departments around Ireland. This week that number is nearly 23,000.
In terms of admissions, just over 7,000 people were admitted last week. This week, that number fell slightly to about 6,600.
These figures are an increase on 2017.
The HSE opened all of its “surge” beds on January 10, to deal with the demand, which amounts to 550 beds, but yesterday the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation recorded 544 people on hospital trolleys.
Mr Harris yesterday also announced the launch of the recruitment process for the executive director for Sláintecare.
The executive director “will be charged with leading and managing this reform programme, working in partnership with key stakeholders across the health system”, Mr Harris said.
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