Friday 28 October 2016

Gerry O'Carroll: Scandal of elderly on trolleys for days shows Varadkar has lost credibility

The ED at Beaumont Hospital
The ED at Beaumont Hospital

The national scandal of sick, vulnerable and mostly elderly patients lying on hospital trolleys in our over-crowded and under-staffed EDs is back in the news.

Not that it ever went away, of course.

Last Thursday staff in the Emergency Department (ED) at Beaumont Hospital called on management to take the ED there 'off call' due to a severe overcrowding and shortage of nurses.

At one point that evening 41 patients were on trolleys in Beaumont's ED, 18 of whom were over 75 years of age. Some of these had been waiting for days.

The situation was so bad that ambulances destined for Beaumont were diverted to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda for a time.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association stated that overcrowding levels were up 40pc in the first nine months of 2015, compared to the same period last year.

A spokesperson described conditions for patients, forced to lie on trolleys or sit on chairs in the ED, as "degrading" and "inhumane".

Beaumont is not the only hospital in crisis.

On October 13 last, there were 35 patients on trolleys in the ED at St Vincent's Hospital, as nurses staged a work-to-rule there over overcrowding.

It's not just a Dublin issue. Overcrowding in Co Kerry led to reports of elderly people waiting on trolleys at Kerry General Hospital for more than 24 hours earlier this year.

On October 13 last, there were 367 patients on trolleys in EDs around the country, and 102 on trolleys in hospital wards.

Shortly afterwards, Prof John Crown told junior doctors that Ireland's health system was "abnormal" and "dysfunctional".

On foot of the figures above, who could disagree?

But the health service, and our EDs in particular, have been in crisis mode for a decade.

In 2006, then-Health Minister Mary Harney declared the situation in Ireland EDs "a national emergency".

Yet almost a decade on the situation remains just as dire.

It is a shameful indictment of our unfixable health system that, in 2015, the situation in our EDs has not improved - instead it has worsened.

How long before an elderly person dies on a trolley?

Earlier this month HSE director general Tony O'Brien took to RTE radio to elaborate on his plans to reduce overcrowding by working with hospital groups and community health organisations.

But subsequent events at Beaumont showed that nothing less than a complete overhaul of the system will have an effect.

Despite all his straight-talking Health Minister Leo Varadkar has had zero impact on the ED crisis since he took up his role. He continues to talk tough, as gravely ill pensioners continue to lie on chairs in overcrowded, noisy rooms.

The trolley scandal shows how Minister Varadkar - like all his predecessors- has lost credibility.

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