The Department of Health says it is working closely with the HSE to ensure the most effective response to the “winter challenges” after it was claimed the country’s already-stretched hospitals face another chaotic winter.
A lack of emergency department resources, a lack of beds and a lack of recruitment will combine to create a “perfect storm”, according to the Irish Medical Organisation.
“This will lead to over 1,000 people being left on trolleys and a severely hampered health service,” says IMO president, Dr Peadar Gilligan.
This year €10m has been provided so hospitals can get patients home, where appropriate, before the end of the year, the Department of Health pointed out.
There is a particular focus on supporting patients aged over 75 who no longer require acute care to leave hospital.
Health Minister Simon Harris asked the HSE to ensure activity next year takes account of “critical demand pressure”, particularly in emergency departments.
The department has stressed that increasing capacity is a Government priority. An additional 240 beds have been opened with a further 79 opening coming on stream towards the end of the year and early in 2019.
The extra beds include an additional 30-bed ward in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Co Louth, a 40-bed modular ward block in South Tipperary General Hospital, and four high-dependency beds each in the Mater Hospital in Dublin and Cork University Hospital.
Also, a new emergency department planned for Our Lady of Lourdes Drogheda is due to open early next year.
The department said a further €10m will be spent next year to alleviate pressure on EDs for next winter and the year ahead.
The additional spending, yet to be finalised by the department in consultation with the HSE, is in response to recommendations in the Health Service Capacity Review.
Dr Gilligan, an emergency medicine consultant in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, said 2,650 more beds are needed immediately as well as more specialists to care for patients in those beds.
In an RTÉ radio interview yesterday, he pointed out that almost 2,000 beds had been taken out of the hospital system since 2006.
As well as recruiting more consultants, there should be an end to the two-tier contract that leaves new consultants since 2012 earning 30% less than their colleagues.
The IMO has also called for a widespread investment in general practice and primary care. Dr Gilligan said the IMO had long warned that resources cannot be removed without an impact on services.
“We will be told in January that it is a flu crisis or a winter crisis. It is not. It is a failure of policy,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said 403 admitted patients waited in EDs and on wards for a bed yesterday.
The worst-hit hospitals were University Hospital Limerick with 55 patients waiting; Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin, had 34 and Cork University Hospital had 31.
On the same day last year, there were 359 patients waiting, according to the INMO. University Hospital Limerick had 57 patients, the highest number, followed by University Hospital Waterford with 35 and University Hospital Galway with 33. Cork University Hospital had 27.