A call by nurses for a major incident protocol to be adopted across the country to alleviate hospital overcrowding has been backed by opposition parties, as the number of people waiting on trolleys hit a record high.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said 760 admitted patients were without a bed today, a new high since records began, with University Hospital Limerick also breaking the daily record for an individual hospital, with 92 patients on trolleys.
The previous highest figure was 82, also in UHL. There were 56 patients on trolleys in Cork University Hospital today, followed by University Hospital Galway (47) and South Tipperary General Hospital (40).
The HSE’s national director of acute hospitals disputed figures from the INMO, but acknowledged “this is not a good day” for the health service.
Liam Woods told RTÉ Radio there are “real pressures” on the system, but that capacity will improve with 190 beds due to open in the first quarter of this year.
He said flu season peaked in weeks 51 and 52, but that the pressure will be felt in the following two to three weeks. He also said that there is a risk of a double incident of the flu, particularly with the return to school this week and the increased risk of infection.
He advised parents that if their children are ill to keep them at home.
A number of measures were being taken, he said, such as the curtailment of elective surgery, use of the private sector and community initiatives such as sending doctors out into the community in cars rather than having patients come into surgery or hospitals.
While Mr Woods said it was normal for elective surgery to be curtailed at this time of year, it was a move that the HSE was reluctant to take.
“We need to recognise that the system was running at 94% before Christmas and it is now above 100% occupancy.”
The INMO called for a major incident protocol to be adopted nationwide after the HSE had previously agreed to mitigation measures in CUH and the Mercy University Hospital in Cork.
This has received the backing of the main opposition parties.
“Immediate action includes cancelling elective surgery and ending non-emergency admissions therefore increasing bed capacity. This is the first step. A turbo-charging of hiring staff to counteract the nonsensical recruitment pause which has been in place is also necessary,” Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said.
Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly called for the implementation of “an immediate crisis intervention package that will alleviate the pressure on services".
"This means lifting the recruitment embargo on frontline staff and expanding capacity in our hospitals,” she said.
Labour Health Spokesperson Alan Kelly said the trolley numbers “are a damning indictment of nine years of Fine Gael at the helm in health”.
“Fine Gael has presided over a recruitment ban in our health system for nearly a year now, depriving overcrowded emergency departments of much needed staff who could help ease the pressure.
“This is the busiest time of year in our hospitals, this situation wasn’t unforeseen but the Government and the HSE have refused to heed the very stark warnings,” he said.