Tackling overcrowding in hospitals could top €75m

Patients on trolleys at Cork University Hospital. Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the issue of delayeddischarge was a big part of the overcrowding problem but that there are other factors at play.

Tackling hospital overcrowding could cost more than €75m, it emerged yesterday.

Liam Doran, the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said that, clearly, more money would be needed to solve the problem.

An emergency department taskforce yesterday met to consider a draft report that is expected to recommend changes in the way the Fair Deal nursing home scheme is funded.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who attended the meeting, said it was hoped to publish the report within the next two weeks.

Mr Varadkar said the issue of delayed discharges — patients who had completed their acute care — was a big part of the overcrowding problem but that there are other contributory factors. “This is a complicated problem. It is not caused by any one thing,” he said.

Some hospitals were overcrowded because of an absence of senior decision-making, inefficient use of beds, or, in some cases, not enough acute beds.

“What we need to do is deal with the broader issues first and then deal with all of the other issues on an individual hospital basis,” Mr Varadkar said.

He would not be drawn on the cost involved. While some of the actions needed were “resource dependent”, others were not.

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said the cost of fixing the problem had not been agreed. A number costings had been proposed but he refused to confirm if it would be in the order of €75m.

Mr Doran said there was no figure mentioned in the draft report but a “significant” additional allocation would be needed.

He said last month’s trolley figures confirmed the scale of the crisis from overcrowding. There were 9,657 patients on trolleys following admission to hospital last month — the highest ever recorded figure for the month of February. It represents a 33% increase on 2014 and a 75% rise on 2013.

Mr Doran said the taskforce had to agree on a range of actions for patients to be cared for appropriately with privacy and dignity.

Mr Varadkar said the trolley figures had been “trending downwards” in the last number of weeks. “But it is never defensible to have people on trolleys for nine or 24 hours and that continues to be the case,” he said.

Nursing Home Ireland said it was willing to play its part in dealing with the overcrowding problem but was surprised that resistance remained to its participation on the taskforce.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar said while doctors were leaving Ireland to work elsewhere, as many were coming back. “At least we are close to an equilibrium,” he said.

He was responding to an NUI Galway study that found almost 90% of medical students were considering emigrating after they qualify.

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