Patients in the North Cork region are the first to benefit from a pilot project testing whether ambulance patients could be treated in Mallow General Hospital instead of an emergency department.
Emergency departments around the country are facing an unprecedented winter crisis, with the numbers on trolleys standing at 508 on Monday, including 80 patients alone at Cork University Hospital.
This can mean older people, in particular, brought by ambulance to an emergency department spending time on a trolley waiting for a bed, when, in some cases, their condition could be treated elsewhere.
This pilot programme is assessing the safety of the ambulances bringing patients, after clinical assessment, to Mallow General Hospital, which does not have an emergency department.
Healthcare at the hospital includes general surgery options such as urology and ENT (ear, nose, and throat), general care such as cardiology and gastroenterology, as well as radiology.
There is a set end-date for the pilot because its effectiveness can only be judged once a significant number of patients have been treated in this way.
If the model proves successful, it could pave the way for an overhaul in accessing emergency care around the country.
Mallow is what is known as a Model 2 hospital, similar to those in Ennis and Nenagh.
“There is potential that this could be rolled out to other Model 2 hospitals, depending on the result from this pilot programme,” said the HSE spokesman.
Speaking to the Oireachtas health committee last week, HSE national clinical advisor (acute operations) Dr Mike O'Connor highlighted programmes such as this as part of the HSE’s efforts to address long waiting times in hospitals.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation on Tuesday called for an urgent fire safety inspection of Sligo University Hospital by the Health and Safety Authority.
Nurses said they were worried about being able to safely evacuate in the event of a fire, higher risk of assaults on staff, a very high risk of infection transmission, and increased risk of injury due to severely reduced space in which to move between patients.
Meanwhile, Munster patients again faced some of the longest delays, with 20 people also waiting at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork and 60 at University Hospital Limerick.