herald

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Overcrowding as bad as winter with 546 left on trolleys

The Mater had 32 patients on trolleys yesterday
The Mater had 32 patients on trolleys yesterday

Hospital overcrowding topped winter levels yesterday as 546 patients across the country endured delays on trolleys waiting for a bed.

The worst hit was University Hospital Limerick, which reached a near-record high of 76 patients without a bed.

Cork University Hospital had 61 patients on trolleys and there were 56 on trolleys in University Hospital Galway.

In the Mater Hospital in Dublin, there were 32 patients on trolleys in its emergency department.

St Vincent's Hospital was trying to find beds for 20 patients.

Three children were on trolleys - two in Temple Street Children's Hospital and one in the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght.

Demands

It came despite a new report saying all extra 75 acute beds and 70 community beds promised under last year's winter plan were open.

Connolly Hospital in Dublin was granted 20 new beds, the highest number, but Cork University Hospital only received an additional five beds under the plan.

Tallaght Hospital was granted six additional beds and St Columcille's Hospital, Loughlinstown, got another eight.

The Mater is due to get an additional three high-dependency unit beds later this year.

An HSE official said the plan to cope with the demands on hospitals in the coming winter was still being finalised.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said 9,562 patients, including 48 children, were forced to wait without a bed last month - the highest number ever recorded in August.

Hospitals in Limerick, Cork, Galway, South Tipperary and Waterford were worst hit.

"This is the tragic ongoing reality in Ireland's health service," said INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.

"To see nearly 10,000 patients on trolleys is bad in itself, but this is a summer month.

"These figures signal an even more dangerous winter, when extra demands are typically placed on hospitals.

"At the core of the problem is staffing - there are well over 1,300 nursing and midwifery vacancies."

It is understood more than 700 patients, known as delayed discharges - who no longer need to be in hospital but cannot be discharged without supports - are occupying hospital beds.

This is linked to a slow-down in HSE homecare and nursing home places under the Fair Deal scheme.

It comes as the Medical Independent revealed an internal HSE document said there were "no signals of a sustained improvement" in the number of delayed discharges in the Irish health service since 2015.

It said the average number of delayed discharges for May was above the expected level and was "unstable".

Deterioration

While the average weekly number of delayed discharges over 12 months was 593, it had been estimated the number would not exceed 550.

The report noted an improvement in December 2018 and January 2019, but the latest data showed a deterioration since February.

"The latest data since February 2019 shows a series of 16 consecutive weeks above the mean. This is unlikely to have occurred by chance alone," it said.

Between 2010 and 2014, the average number of delayed discharges was 690. However, the number of delayed discharges reduced to 585 between 2015 and to-date in 2019.

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