Trolley figures reach an all-time high

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted he is baffled by the sky-rocketing trolley count crisis after claiming he does not know why the situation is spiralling out of control.

Mr Varadkar said it is “not entirely clear” what is going wrong after the number of people waiting on trolleys hit an all-time record high of 714, and as nurses lashed out at the “absolutely unsafe” conditions.

According to the latest Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation figures, some 714 people were waiting on trolleys yesterday morning, including a 64-year-old man waiting 109 hours at Tallaght Hospital.

The figure, an all-time national record, dwarfs the 495 when health minister Mary Harney declared a national emergency in 2006. It is the 14th time this year, and 17th time since the start of 2017, that trolley levels have exceeded the previously unheralded 600 threshold, and includes:

  • 80 patients at the University Hospital Limerick;
  • 45 at University College Hospital Galway;
  • 43 at Cork University Hospital;
  • 40 at Tallaght Hospital;
  • 37 at the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore;
  • And 23 at Kerry General Hospital.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the the number of people being left on trolleys is “absolutely unsafe” and that emergency department scenes can only be described as “chaotic”.

Warning that “if it was any other industry there would now be a national inquiry into what planning went into the predictable surge in admissions” after the the recent snow storms “because, in my opinion, there were none”, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said officials ignored nurse calls last week for the coming two weeks to be declared a national emergency.

She insisted both the HSE and the Government must now take responsibility for addressing the overcrowding crisis instead of “looking for excuses, the flu, the storm, when what they should be looking at is how they are planning”

However, while acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, Mr Varadkar last night attempted to blame the snow storm aftermath and a longer than expected flu season instead of failing to act on warnings for the all-time record figures — adding he does not know why the trolley count figures are out of control.

We were seeing some improvements in November and December last year. The situation has now deteriorated. It’s not entirely clear why that is and additional beds have been provided to hospitals.

“In part I think it is because of a very long flu season, but that’s not an excuse and that’s not acceptable,” he told reporters in Oklahoma, where he continued his week-long St Patrick’s Day visit to the US.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher last night said it is “extraordinary” for a Taoiseach, former health minister, and qualified doctor to say it is unclear why the trolley count has reached a record high.

He must be the only man in the world who doesn’t know what the problem is, capacity and planning. Either he is being flippant or he doesn’t understand the problems, Mr Kelleher said.

Speaking after an emergency department task-force meeting, Health Minister Simon Harris said he is allocating an extra €5m to “significantly increase home care packages and provide hundreds more transitional care beds” to reduce hospital pressure, and has also recently published the Government’s bed capacity review which has called for an extra 2,500 beds in the system by 2030.

The HSE last night said it is cancelling most non-urgent inpatient procedures, postponing some day surgery cases, and asking hospitals to send patients home “in so far as they can”.

A spokesperson said 621 extra beds were opened yesterday, while public hospitals are in discussions with private hospitals to transfer “suitable patients”.

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