Patient numbers on trolleys hit record

Nurse union leader urges ‘radical action’ to address overcrowding

The HSE has apologised for distress caused to patients left on trolleys in some of the worst overcrowding ever seen in emergency departments, but warned of little improvement in the weeks ahead.

Numbers on trolleys in the country’s acute hospitals hit 563 yesterday, a fraction below the all-time record of 569, bringing warnings from nurses they were dealing with “dangerously high” workloads. The HSE said all hospitals had invoked “escalation plans” which included creating overflow areas for the treatment of patients on trolleys and curtailing non-emergency surgery.

However, Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), called for “radical action”, including the immediate postponement of all non-urgent surgeries for at least two weeks to free up beds in wards.

“Emergency department overcrowding was declared a national emergency when we had just under 500 people on trolleys in 2006,” he said.

“We now have 563 patients on trolleys, in the first working week of the new year, with the situation worsening on a daily basis. This is a national emergency. This is a health service crisis which must be addressed.”

The INMO described the workload nurses were carrying as dangerously high and said patient care was “severely compromised”. Examples included palliative care patients left on trolleys for more than four days.

Mr Doran called for the opening of more beds, the urgent recruitment of extra nursing staff and more money for home care packages and community nurses to enable more patients be cared for at home.

The calls came as more than 1,000 nurses in the Mid-West began balloting on industrial action over what they described as “chronic and persistent” overcrowding at the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick.

The nurses, members of the INMO and Siptu, are also opposed to HSE proposals to tackle the problem by placing trolleys in medical wards at UHL and transferring patients to hospitals in Ennis, Nenagh and Croom.

Nurses at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, which urged non-urgent patients to stay away from its emergency department, when overcrowding reached crisis point last month, are also to be balloted with staff in Drogheda, Naas and Galway as well as Mullingar, where a ‘stay-away’ warning came into place over the weekend.

In a statement, the HSE apologised to patients and families for any distress caused by the delays in emergency departments.

Worst affected yesterday was Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda where 50 people were on trolleys. St Vincent’s in Dublin had 41, St Luke’s in Kilkenny had 39 and Mayo General had 34.

The numbers have been rising since early December, prompting Health Minister Leo Varadkar to set up an Emergency Department Taskforce before Christmas. It is working on an action plan “with a view to a significant reduction in trolley waits over 2015”.

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