Nearly 8,000 older people have been forced to wait more than 24 hours in hospital emergency departments this year, according to shocking new figures.
HSE figures for the first six months of 2019 show that 7,700 patients over 75 faced lengthy waiting times of a full day or more in hospital EDs across the State between the beginning of January and the end of June.
January was the worst month so far in 2019, with more than 1,500 over-75s forced to wait more than 24 hours in EDs.
This figure fell slightly in February to 1,395 before creeping up again in March to 1,436.
The figure fell again to 1,255 in April and was under 1,000 in May, but crept up to 1,100 by the end of June.
The figures were released by the HSE in response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Fein health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly.
The problem was particularly acute in large hospitals located in cities.
Limerick University Hospital had the highest number of patients over 75 waiting more than 24 hours, with nearly 1,000 in the first half of this year.
Galway University Hospital had 854 of these patients, while Dublin's Mater Hospital had 793.
In Cork, 723 patients over 75 were forced to wait more than 24 hours in the ED at Cork University Hospital and there were 666 patients in University Hospital Waterford who had waiting times in its ED of more than 24 hours between January and June.
Nearly 600 elderly patients faced long waiting times in Dublin's Beaumont Hospital.
In its response to Ms O'Reilly, the HSE said that older persons presenting at hospital EDs are likely to have more than one condition, a longer patient experience time and require in-patient admission.
"Older persons also generally require a longer length of stay which in turn places greater demand on bed capacity," the HSE said.
"The HSE, through the integrated care of the older persons programme and emerging acute floor concept, is seeking to develop better alternatives to better manage the needs of older persons and strives to ensure no patient remains in ED for over 24 hours."
Ms O'Reilly said that if the trend continued in the second half of the year, then 2019 will be the first year ever that more than 15,000 older patients have had to wait over 24 hours in emergency departments.
"Older patients are often among the most vulnerable people in our hospitals due to their age and the additional medical needs that can sometimes accompany ageing," the Dublin Fingal TD said.
"Their being treated urgently prevents escalation of injury and ensures safety and swift treatment.
"The staff in our hospitals do an amazing job and they are doing more with less resources... even though there is a recruitment and retention crisis."