Trolley count numbers are outrageous, says junior minister

Independent Alliance TD and junior education minister John Halligan

A junior minister has described the record-breaking hospital trolley count as “outrageous”.

It comes amid fresh calls for the emergency department taskforce to be convened to address the crisis.

Independent Alliance TD and junior education minister John Halligan said the escalating situation is unacceptable.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) urged the HSE and Department of Health to convene a taskforce to tackle the “national emergency” and said hospitals “simply cannot cope”.

An all-time high of 656 people waiting on trolleys was reached on Tuesday. The figure was exceeded yesterday with 677 waiting.

While some government officials said the situation is being brought under control, Mr Halligan said the conditions and figures are “outrageous” and cannot be allowed to continue.

“I had reason to be in the Waterford hospital many times over the Christmas period because of a family matter,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today With Sean O’Rourke programme.

“I was there twice a day for three weeks and I did see people on trolleys, and I spoke with people on trolleys, and I thought it was outrageous to be quite frank with you. What else can I say?”

Labour’s health spokesman, Alan Kelly, said the “rising trolley figures are not sustainable for patients or staff in hospitals”. He said there is “no point in blaming the flu outbreak” for the rates as “it is clear little was learned from last winter”.

Solidarity-People Before Profit and the Social Democrats were also scathing, with the latter’s Róisín Shortall, a former junior health minister, saying the trolley crisis is “predictable and avoidable” — a claim also made by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil on Tuesday.

“This latest trolley crisis is a national disgrace and is intolerable for both patients and staff, but it is also absolutely predictable,” said Ms Shortall.

“After a summer when our health services were on a knife-edge, it was inevitable that winter flu and other seasonal illnesses would push our hospitals beyond breaking point.”

While agreeing with the criticism, Mr Halligan noted a number of these parties — particularly Fianna Fáil — did not take the opportunity to enter government after the last general election, and as such should limit their claims on how they can solve the health crisis.

“Maybe they’ll have an opportunity to do that in a few months or next year, but I doubt they will [enter government],” he said.

Meanwhile, the INMO said it is seeking an immediate meeting of the emergency department taskforce to address the trolley crisis.

In a statement, new general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the situation is out of control and has become a “national emergency” that the Government and HSE must immediately address if it wants to avoid needless loss of life.

“We are very concerned at the level of planning to avoid the situation that has been engaged in some locations and we have sought to meet with the HSE as a matter of urgency,” she said.

“We are awaiting their confirmation that this meeting will take place, with a view to examining alternative arrangements for hospitals that are simply too overcrowded to continue to accept admissions.

“It is clear that a national emergency is now in place and certain locations simply cannot cope.”

While health officials are not inclined to convene the emergency department taskforce yet as the heads of hospitals need to remain at their facilities, they are concerned about the fact the backlog of patients in hospitals is causing trolley counts to surge overnight.

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