Nurses and midwives have warned that planned strikes could still go ahead if the Government fails to heed its warnings on hospital overcrowding.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the number of people on hospital trolleys is unacceptable, even if the figure it compiled for yesterday is lower than that from the same day last year.
The Health Service Executive had claimed that as of 8am yesterday there were 236 patients awaiting admission to a hospital bed — a fall of 54% compared with the same day in 2018.
However, the INMO’s own count put the number of people on trolleys yesterday at 366, with the union’s general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, claiming the INMO count is more accurate.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha told RTÉ radio: “The HSE only count people who are actually in the emergency department and not in beds on trolleys but have been admitted to the hospital. We count those that are admitted to hospital throughout the hospital — on wards, on trolleys, but again not in beds — so our figure is more accurate because what we’re demonstrating is that the hospitals are overcrowded now, not just the emergency departments, the entire hospital is overcrowded.”
Minister for Health, Simon Harris, admitted that last year’s trolley figures are “very challenging”, but said HSE figures showed that from May each month, with the exception of November, had fewer people on trolleys than in the same months in 2017.
But in a strongly-worded statement the INMO said 108,227 patients went without hospital beds last year — a record number, marking a 9% increase on the INMO’s 2017 trolley count and almost double the number it counted back in 2006.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said: “Despite the Government spin, 2018 was the worst year on record for overcrowding. Negative records were set throughout the year, with over 100,000 admitted patients forced to wait on trolleys and chairs, without a proper bed. We know that this dramatically worsens outcomes for our patients.”
The INMO has consistently blamed low bed capacity and understaffing for the trolley crisis and the INMO executive will meet on January 7 and 8 to set dates for strikes after 95% of the union’s membership voted for industrial action.
Labour Party Health spokesperson, Alan Kelly, said pay equality in the health sector could be one means of retaining nurses in this country.
“Over the last few weeks, I met many young nurses and their parents who were home for Christmas,” he said. “Many of those that I spoke to want to return to Ireland in the coming year but don’t plan to until the issues around new-entrants’ pay is sorted.
“Ending the two-tier pay system in our hospitals especially would go a long way to enticing more nursing graduates and young nurses into Irish hospitals. This, in turn, would ease the pressure on our wards. We know from the INMO that levels of burnout and stress among staff are on the rise due to staffing pressures in many of our hospitals.”