Numbers on A&E trolleys nearing ‘emergency levels’

THE number of patients on trolleys in emergency departments around the country is hedging towards the figure that prompted Health Minister Mary Harney to declare a national emergency.

Yesterday the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said 428 patients were on trolleys, less than 70 shy of the March 2006 figure of 495 categorised as a national emergency.

Trolley numbers were highest in Tallaght Hospital, 54, and Beaumont Hospital, 47. Outside of Dublin, the number of patients on trolleys was highest in Cork University Hospital at 38.

Earlier this week the Health Service Executive (HSE) issued a statement saying emergency departments around the country were busier than usual over the Christmas period, “much of which can be attributed to the cold snap”. However, yesterday Liam Doran, general secretary of the INMO, said the growing number of patients on trolleys in emergency departments was “entirely predictable” and had more to do with delayed discharges – where patients fit for discharge remain in hospital because of a shortage of step-down facilities – than bad weather.

“This week every year has always peaked in terms of trolley numbers and we would expect the situation to get even worse over the next four to six weeks. However, it is not due to the weather. It is the simple and inevitable consequence of the HSE’s bed organisation policy. As well as beds being closed, all the major Dublin hospitals have record numbers of delayed discharges and there is no foreseeable end to that,” Mr Doran said.

HSE figures show the equivalent of up to three large hospitals are taken up by what are referred to as “bed blockers”.

A spokesperson for Beaumont Hospital said the INMO figures were slightly higher than the reality because they included patients in the admission lounge “where there are proper beds”.

However, he admitted the hospital emergency department was under significant pressure and that patients faced lengthy delays. On this basis, he said patients who were not in urgent need of attention should consider attending their GP.

“It will save them the inconvenience of long waits at the emergency department and save others in the hospital the inconvenience of over-crowded conditions,” he said.

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