Overcrowding is beginning to 'cripple' Cork hospitals, with no emergency plans agreed to cope with an expected surge in demand this winter, nurses have warned.
The latest figures show 58 patients waiting on trolleys at Cork University Hospital (CUH) as it remains one of the most overcrowded in the country.
CUH has been the worst impacted hospital in the country over the last week but was surpassed yesterday by University Hospital Limerick where 62 people were waiting on trolleys.
Elsewhere in Cork, 19 people were on trolleys in the Mercy Hospital, up from 14 the day previous.
“There is a clear lack of hospital capacity over the last number of weeks, and you can see that here in Cork,” said Liam Conway, industrial relations officer with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
“CUH and the Mercy have been crippled with overcrowding and that poses a huge threat to staff in their workplace,” he added.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha has previously warned that overcrowded hospitals with poor ventilation can act as “infection hotspots” for Covid-19, posing a threat to both patients and frontline staff.
Mr Conway says the INMO has sought an order of engagement with CUH seeking the introduction of a number of measures to alleviate pressures, but are still awaiting a response.
“We’re also due to meet with the HSE and the South/Southwest Hospital Group to discuss the winter plan to address overcrowding, but that plan is still outstanding, and the concern is obviously at the moment that we’re heading into October with no plan signed off on yet,” said Mr Conway.
“It should really be launched now with the additional funding required, but it has been very slow,” he added.
The INMO is calling for an increase in hospital bed capacity in both CUH and the Mercy.
While Mr Conway says CUH are seeking expansion of bed capacity in their winter plan, and work is currently underway to expand capacity in the Mercy by 30 beds, neither hospital will see an increase in bed capacity before next year.
In the interim, and with the fast approach of the winter season, the INMO are calling for maximised utilisation of bed capacity in the private sector, as well as increased support for community hospitals and home care services to alleviate pressure on acute hospitals.
Mr Conway also highlighted the need for a recruitment drive “to go overseas and recruit staff.”
He added that there are significant vacancies both in CUH and the Mercy at present.
The HSE confirmed that it is using private hospitals to help with the high numbers of patients attending Emergency Departments which are extremely busy with many patients presenting with complex needs requiring admission.
The HSE said: "There are also more people presenting who may have had their care deferred either because of Covid-19 surges or the recent cyberattack resulting in cancellations.
"A number of measures are being taken to manage high emergency attendances, in order to de-escalate and assist with patient flow. The HSE is also continuing to use private hospitals to support access for patients given the continuing impact of the recent cyberattack.
"The HSE is urging members of the public to consider all available care options before attending Emergency Departments. There are a range of care pathways available to patients who do not need emergency care including Pharmacists, GP, GP Out of Hours Services and Minor Injury Units.
"Within Emergency Departments patients will be prioritised based on their clinical need. We therefore urge all patients where appropriate to consult with their GP prior to attending an Emergency Department. In an emergency situation, Emergency Departments continue to deal with all medical emergencies."
Across the country, 409 admitted patients were waiting on trolleys yesterday — 339 in emergency departments and 70 on wards.