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Leo goes AWOL as trolley fiasco hits breaking point

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Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar was "away" from Ireland as the emergency department crisis hit its worst peak in a decade.

The usually outspoken minister has been publicly absent from the crisis as a record 601 patients languished on trolleys and chairs nationwide.

A representative for the Department of Health said that Mr Varadkar was "away" but was expected back today.

"The minister is away but has been in touch with the situation, and he will be back today," the spokesperson told the Herald.

Fianna Fail spokesperson on health Billy Kelleher called for Minister Varadkar to explain why he has been absent from the debate.

"He should come out straight and tell us where he has been the last number of days," Mr Kelleher told the Herald.

"We know that it's a serious situation yet we don't know where our Health Minister has been and he should come out and tell us."

"He's a hands-off minister, he should be acting more as a hands-on minister."

The number of people waiting for a bed on a trolley or a chair hit a record high since 'trolley watch' records were first taken by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) 10 years ago.

The worst-hit hospital in the eastern region was Beaumont with 35 patients on trolleys and six on the wards, according to the INMO figures.

Our Lady of Lourde's Hospital in Drogheda has 45 on trolleys.

Beaumont Hospital cancelled all planned surgery for the week, except for cancer cases, to cope with the overcrowding.

It issued a statement saying it "acknowledges and regrets the difficult conditions experienced by patients and staff at its emergency department."

The HSE was again criticised for failing to properly prepare for the influx of patients - particularly the elderly.

The criticism came as its hospital chief Dr Tony O'Connell, who was appointed to the HSE job of Director of Acute Hospitals, announced earlier this week that he was stepping down.

The INMO has called for an immediate meeting of the emergency department taskforce, established by Mr Varadkar just before Christmas.

fdillon@herald.ie