A&E crisis - Neglect of crisis making it worse

WHAT will it take for the Government to realise that neglecting the crisis in Ireland’s health service is both wasteful and foolish and cannot be allowed to go on?

Both the Deparment of the Health and the HSE continue to underestimate the huge challenge posed by the ongoing critical situation in hospital emergency departments.

It is true that the appalling state of our hospital emergency services cannot be blamed entirely on the current Government, as previous administrations were equally culpable.

But it has the primary responsibility to ensure that we have a service that is fit for purpose. The sad reality is that, at present, we do not have such a service.

The Department of Health’s Emergency Task Force is due to meet today after the summer break to review the situation but it is likely that the chronic overcrowding observed in July will have gotten worse.

There were 299 patients on trolleys or on wards yesterday waiting for admission to a hospital bed, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which has been monitoring overcrowding systematicall for the past 12 years, watching with dismay as almost ever year sees the crisis going from bad to worse. It is hard to disagree with the INMO’s conclusion that the increase in the number of patients on trolleys is a result of failure of the health service to increase bed capacity due to an inability to recruit staff.

The HSE has failed to honour its commitment to fill all vacant nursing posts in emergency department, which is now estimated to be over 150, increasing from 135 earlier this year.

To make matters even worse, the health service is unable to recruit consultants, and doctors currently undergoing training are emigrating in greater numbers each year.

According to the Irish Medical Organisation, more than 1,600 beds have been taken out of the public health system over the past 12 years during a period when the population increased by hundreds of thousands.

Demand for emergency care is increasing because patients are not receiving timely care due to long waiting lists and cancelling of elective surgery, says the IMO.

It is also increasing because of our ageing population. According to a study by Social Justice Ireland, Ireland will have more than one million people over the age of 65 by 2031. We used to be known as ‘the Young Europeans’ but over the next 15 years we will see a huge demographic change that has to be planned for now.

One of the obvious effects of an ageing population will be an increased demand for medical and other services. That means that not only must the current crisis be addressed as a matter of urgency, more resources be put in place to plan for the future. It will also be essential to improve community services so that the burden does not fall entirely on hospitals.

It is clear that if the health service were a patient it would be in intensive care requiring immediate medical attention.

The fact remains that our jails are less crowded than our hospitals and are far better resourced and staffed.

That cannot be allowed to continue.


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