Hospital overcrowding: ‘Battleground’ hospitals trying to regain control

With 528 patients on trolleys for up to 20 hours awaiting hospital beds, emergency medicine consultants have repeated to HSE chiefs the overcrowding crisis will not be solved without extra doctors, nurses and beds.

Hospital overcrowding: ‘Battleground’ hospitals trying to regain control

Emergency departments (ED) and hospital wards nationwide are being routinely described as “battlegrounds” and as “horrific”.

Among the worst affected, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s Trolley Watch, is Cork University Hospital (CUH), with 40 patients on trolleys yesterday, with 60 at University Hospital Limerick, and 37 at Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore.

And, despite nurses, doctors, and ambulance staff insisting a hike in presentations at EDs could and should have been planned for, HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien stoutly defended hospital management, saying the numbers presenting at emergency departments “was not something” they “could control”.

Mr O’Brien said there had been a 6.7% rise in the numbers of patients presenting year-on-year at EDs.

Surgery has been cancelled in many hospitals due to overcrowding. At CUH, neurosurgery patients with diagnosed brain tumours and brain haemorrhages were forced to wait in EDs to access treatment as beds in the neurosurgery ward were occupied with patients with non-neurological medical and surgical problems, said John Duddy, a neurosurgery specialist register at CUH.

In Letterkenny General Hospital, Gerry Lane, regional spokesman for the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, said patients had been waiting up to 20 hours to been seen at ED.

“We’ve put patients everywhere we possibly can,” Dr Lane told RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke show. “The hospital is so completely full, all surgery has actually been ceased here with the exception of caesarian section. So the entire hospital is on a battle footing, as it were, and the entire hospital is bent towards trying to get the situation under control.”

Siptu has said ambulances at Limerick, CUH, MUH, Drogheda, Kerry, and Waterford hospitals were unable to respond to calls as they were obliged to stay with patients on stretchers until they were handed over to ED staff.

“Patients are being left on stretchers for hours as we can’t safely transfer them to the care of the hospital as there is no space,” said Paul Bell of Siptu.

Mr O’Brien said a “fundamental redesign of the health system” was required.

He is calling for “significant transitional investment” in primary care so “GPs have recourse to diagnostics”. He also warned that the flu and respiratory illness outbreak has not yet peaked and, as schools reopen, it could worsen.

Emergency consultant at CUH, Chris Luke, said ED overcrowding is “relentlessly worsening” and is “being exacerbated by the shortage of beds, doctors, and nurses”. He repeated a belief that too many people present at ED with diagnosed chronic problems such as ailments arising from degenerative joints and spines that “flare up and down”.

Dr Luke said these problems do not constitute “an emergency”, and should be better screened and dealt with in outpatient clinics.

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