herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Bed-blockers put lives at risk, says former HSE chief

Dr Tony O'Connell
Dr Tony O'Connell

Delayed discharges in hospitals are putting lives at risk, according to the former chairman of the Emergency Department Taskforce.

Dr Tony O'Connell outlined the risks in an analysis of the problem of delayed discharges last September, it has been revealed.

He resigned as the HSE national director for acute hospitals last month, after eight months in the senior post.

Dr O'Connell wrote a three-page analysis in September when he said that there were 703 delayed discharge patients in the acute hospital system representing "30 wards of capacity".

He revealed there were a "handful of patients who live permanently in our acute beds, in that they have been waiting over three years for placement".

Dr O'Connell warned that from a quality and safety perspective, this situation is unacceptable.

He pointed out that a busy ward with high levels of activity 24/7 is an inappropriate setting for elderly patients at risk of disorientation.

"The loss of 30 wards of capacity in our acute hospitals means that fewer beds are available to accept elective/scheduled activity and to cope with the surges in demand through our emergency departments," he said.

Relentless

"This has resulted in a relentless rise in long-wait patients on the elective and endoscopy lists and a rise in the numbers of patients in emergency departments.

"Both these phenomena risk patient safety (delayed treatment for patients needing surgery and increased morality for patients blocked in their transit through ED)," he said.

The information was released to RTE's Prime Time following a Freedom of Information request, and featured on last night's programme.

Dr O'Connell proposed shifting funds in the short term from the acute hospitals budget to the social care budget which funds home care packages and the fair deal scheme, as caring for patients in a nursing home is approximately half as expensive as in an acute setting.

But he concluded that the long term solution to this problem is adequate funding of the social care setting.

Last week, there were 755 delayed discharge patients in the system.

Dr O'Connell was appointed to the HSE Directorate last May and was more recently asked to chair the emergency department taskforce. He resigned last month on January 5, saying he was moving to Australia after his wife had took up an academic post there.

fdillon@herald.ie

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