Hospitals facing staff illness, bed shortages and rising patient numbers this winter

Hospitals facing staff illness, bed shortages and rising patient numbers this winter

During August, Cork University Hospital saw 22.8% more patients than in August 2019. File picture: Dan Linehan

Patients attending Irish hospitals this winter face unprecedented challenges as hospitals report high levels of staff illness, bed shortages and spiralling patient numbers.

A detailed submission to the Oireachtas Health Committee this week from seven hospital groups, seen by the Irish Examiner, shows record numbers of patients attending most hospitals in parallel with staff shortages linked to recruitment challenges and Covid-19 leading to cancellations, even in children’s hospitals.

In Munster the South/SouthWest Hospital Group saw “significantly” more patients than in 2019, the last year of normal activity.

During August, Cork University Hospital saw 22.8% more patients than in August 2019, while at University Hospital Waterford, attendances shot up by 38% and in Tipperary by 22.8%.

The group reported: “There are daily staffing shortages arising due to unplanned leave including Covid-19 leave,” saying on November 19 there were 140 staff absent in University Hospital Kerry with shortages also in Clonmel and Mercy UH in Cork.

It said community bed shortages caused by the need to isolate patients with Covid are delaying hospital discharges, noting the Cork/Kerry Community Healthcare Organisation is down about 200 beds.

A similar challenge faces patients attending the University of Limerick Hospitals Group, where on November 19 there were 22 patients awaiting discharge.

The group has recruited 240 nurses since January but shortages persist, especially among emergency department staff.

Nurses are particularly challenged by the “significant increase” in Covid- patients outside of ICUs who need non-invasive ventilation which averages 11-15 daily.

The UL hospitals are also cancelling procedures, but said 3,364 people were sent to private hospitals, meaning those patients did not miss out on treatment.


Sick children are also facing a tough winter, with Children’s Health Ireland reporting 477 children on trolleys during October and November, in comparison to 145 for the same period in 2019.

CHI emergency departments saw 19,845 children between October 4 and November 5, compared with just over 11,000 for the same period in 2019.

This is having an immediate knock-on effect, with 32% more children’s operations cancelled this year compared to 2019.

CHI Temple Street also reported 14.25% of its ED patients were unable to see a GP due to staff shortages among GPs in the area too.

In Connacht, the Saolta University Healthcare Group saw a “slight decrease” in trolley numbers at three hospitals but a “significant increase” at Mayo University Hospital and Portiuncula hospital between 2019 and this winter.

Galway University Hospital is down 35 beds due to Covid-safety measures. There are four vacant emergency department consultant posts and while the ED is funded for 161 nurses, it only has the equivalent of 87 on the floor due to shortages or Covid-leave.

Sligo University Hospital reported: “There is a poor skills mix in nursing due to a reliance on new/junior members of staff”; and in Letterkenny, three of the four ED consultants roles are filled by temporary staff.

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