Emergency medicine doctors welcome public protests over hospital overcrowding

Emergency medicine doctors welcome public protests over hospital overcrowding

Consultant in emergency medicine Fergal Hickey said: 'We welcome the fact that the public is no longer prepared to tolerate the unacceptable situation which has been foisted on both patients and staff in emergency departments.' Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Protests against hospital overcrowding have been welcomed by the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, which called for proper funding around hospital beds to address the crisis.

Among the national protests, an estimated 11,000 people marched in Limerick to highlight concerns.

Consultant in emergency medicine Fergal Hickey said: “We welcome the fact that the public is no longer prepared to tolerate the unacceptable situation which has been foisted on both patients and staff in emergency departments.” 

He added: “We welcome the fact that the public is now asking the obvious question ‘why do emergency departments have to be so crowded, why does care have to be compromised as a result’, but given that the decision-making takes place at HSE central level and in the Department of Health and Department of [Public] Expenditure and Reform, their ire should be directed at those groups.” 

The solution to overcrowding does not lie in re-opening small emergency departments, he said.

“They [government] are the people who need to be convinced of the need to increase our bed capacity,” he said.

Ireland’s problem is not that we have too few emergency departments, arguably we have too many. Our problem is we have too few acute hospital beds for our population.” 

Up to 5,000 beds have been estimated as being needed, with the Government recently saying 1,000 extra beds were put in since 2020.

However, Dr Hickey said this was far too few, as the HSE has said not all promised beds could be staffed and opened.

Even 1,000 beds “brings us probably up to 2.9 acute hospital beds per 1,000 of the population and the OECD average is 4.3," he said.

“Until and unless they fix that problem, then all of our emergency departments are going to be in the same boat.” 

Referring to the protests, he said: “I’m glad to see people now recognise this is unacceptable, and they need to put pressure on their politicians to pass this problem up the line. Ultimately, these are political decisions.” 

The MidWest Hospital Campaign has called for the reopening of emergency departments in Ennis, Nenagh, and St John’s hospitals.

“There is no support whatsoever within emergency medicine for re-opening emergency departments in hospitals that lost their 24/7 emergency services because they lost them for a reason,” Dr Hickey said.

“Hiqa did a review of Ennis and it concluded that 24/7 emergency department services were unsafe and should not be provided. The hospital didn’t have the capability of supporting an emergency department, it didn’t have the necessary specialities.” 

Ennis and other small hospitals also do not have the patient numbers required for medical staff to keep up their skills, he added.

A HSE programme that started in Mallow hospital and now includes Ennis and Roscommon allows some non-urgent patients to be accepted from ambulances after triage.

However, Dr Hickey said this would affect “tiny numbers” of patients. Mallow accepted 29 patients over three months, the HSE said. 

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