Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has played down concerns about the highest hospital trolley numbers this year amid warnings patients are fearful of attending emergency units.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald raised the hospital overcrowding crisis and noted the 'black status' declared at Cork University Hospital (CUH) last week when the facility was at maximum capacity and could not admit more patients.
She highlighted how a Bandon GP had described how an 84-year-old female patient refused to be admitted to the emergency department at CUH, saying 'I'd rather die at home than be in there'.
Ms McDonald said: “She [the GP] said that particular patient's response is not unique and that many other patients have expressed similar fears. These are patients who need to be in hospital but are unwilling to attend A and E.”
Claiming it was a "scandalous situation", she also highlighted the case of an elderly man who had fallen in Skibbereen and was left lying on a pavement for almost two hours for an ambulance.
Such situations exemplified the crisis, she said, citing the trolley numbers for 2019 recorded yesterday.
While the Taoiseach refused to discuss personal cases, he questioned Ms McDonald's mention of the hospital trolley statistics.
“I never like to reduce statistics, because it isn't like statistics, it is about people."
Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar went on to play down the high trolley figures “It is not higher than it was last year or the year before that, the year before that or the year before that. It is always possible to pull out record highs and record lows.”
He also noted the HSE had recorded the first three months of this year as having the lowest trolley figures in five years.
Earlier (2:03pm): Over 631 patients on trolleys; highest level in 2019
There were 631 admitted patients waiting for beds today, the highest ever this year, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said they were seeing overcrowding in nearly every acute hospital.
“There were over 10 hospitals with more than 30 patients on trolleys today. This is a failure by any measure,” she said.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said such overcrowding caused problems for patients care and staff conditions.
“Our members face a daily ordeal of endemic staffing shortages and a constant cycle of burnout. Investment in safe staffing levels is absolutely crucial to reforming the health service for staff and for patient safety.”
According to the INMO, 465 admitted patients were waiting for beds in emergency departments, while 166 were in wards elsewhere in the hospital.
The worst-hit hospitals were:-
- University Hospital Limerick – 55.
- Sligo Univesity Hospital – 50.
- Cork University Hospital – 42.
The numbers come after the highest total of patients waiting on trolleys was recorded at University Hospital Limerick last week.
The hospital is the most consistently overcrowded in the country. It saw a 17-bed ward closed over two weeks ago, and local representatives say the issue is now at crisis point.
Patient advocate, Stephen McMahon, said he was very concerned about the impact of hospital overcrowding on patient safety and quality.
Mr McMahon, who is co-founder and chairman of the Irish Patients Association is also worried about the effects on staff who have to work in such stressful conditions.
“It is a crisis and with the number of admitted patients on trolleys continuing to increase so we are not through the worst of it yet,” he said.
According to the INMO, the highest trolley figure reached last year was 714 on March 12, surpassing the second highest figure of the year – 677 on January 3 (2018).
Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: "We have the second lowest number of beds per capita in Europe.
"What we're seeing is crisis after crisis after crisis, and ultimately it's the patients who suffer, their families suffer, and it's putting our doctors, nurses and midwives in an impossible situation.
"They're trying to provide a service that the Government is making it harder and harder for them to provide."
Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly described the issue as unacceptable.
"We are now near the middle of April, the worst of the winter flu crisis is over, but yet 631 people are on trolleys today," he said.
"It is a sad state of affairs that these types of figures are not shocking people any more.
"The INMO has not recorded a day where there have been less than 250 people on trolleys. We should not have to accept these kind of figures as the new normal.
"Excessive trolley numbers like these are not acceptable to patients, their families or those who have to work in these conditions.
"The solutions are there, they've been presented to the Minister for Health so many times, but he continues to ignore this problem."