Varadkar: No closure of Emergency Departments planned

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admits that he is “shocked” by the overcrowding in emergency department (ED) wards, but says no closure of emergency hospital facilities is planned.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admits that he is “shocked” by the overcrowding in emergency department (ED) wards, but says no closure of emergency hospital facilities is planned.

Mr Varadkar said an average of 200 to 250 extra beds a year nationwide will be needed for emergency wards but he added that money and resources alone would not resolve overcrowding in units.

His comments came as new figures show Cork University Hospital had the highest numbers of patients on trolleys yesterday.

Mr Varadkar took questions in the Dáil, after severe delays in emergency department over the Christmas break, where it was claimed that almost 100,000 people last year had spent at least one night on a trolley.

However, he disputed this figure from Labour’s Brendan Howlin, as well as the way emergency department figures are calculated.

“I am also shocked that it has taken and is taking so long to resolve it,” he said.

“The figure of 100,000 the Deputy gives does not refer to people who spent the night on a trolley.

“That is a count done at 8am and could include people on a trolley for fewer than nine hours, maybe even one hour or two.

Brendan Howlin
Brendan Howlin

“The figures collated by the INMO [Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation] by its own explanation, on its website, include patients who are not on trolleys but are in the wrong sort of bed in, for example, an overflow ward or a unit that should have 12 beds but now has 14 and so on.

“As more categories of patients are added to that count, inevitably that number will go up.”

Addressing queries on whether emergency departments may be closed, Mr Varadkar said ED facilities at Portlaoise in the Midlands or elsewhere will not be cut.

There had been reports in recent weeks that the the emergency department in Portlaoise would be shut down.

Mr Varadkar also said up to 250 extra beds a year in emergency wards would be needed to reach a target of an extra 2,500 beds by 2031. Money is not the sole problem, though, the Dáil heard.

However, Mr Howlin disagreed with Mr Varadkar’s assessment.

“The Government has perfected the line that it is not a matter of money or resources, and we have heard that again today,” he said. “At the heart of the trolley crisis is a lack of capacity and staff and to solve that does require money.”

Meanwhile, Cork University Hospital had the highest number of patients on trolleys or wards yesterday, according to the INMO.

There were 41 patients on trolleys or on wards in CUH awaiting admission to a hospital bed; University Hospital Galway had 38 and Letterkenny General Hospital in Co Donegal had 36.

The INMO counted 541 patients on trolleys or on wards in hospitals throughout the country yesterday — 13 of whom were children.

Similarly, on January 17, 2017, the INMO recorded 527 patients on trolleys and on wards waiting for a hospital bed.

According to the HSE’s trolley count, there were 415 patients on trolleys in hospital emergency departments yesterday, compared to 403 last year — an increase of almost 3%.

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