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Friday 31 March 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Shutterstock The INMO says over 121,318 patients went without a bed in Irish hospitals this year.
Urgent health service demand at never before seen levels amid 'worst year' for hospital overcrowding
It comes amid a warning from the HSE that ‘demand for urgent health services is rising well above levels we have seen before’.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 30th 2022, 3:52 PM

2022 HAS BEEN the “worst year for hospital overcrowding on record”.

That’s according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which has labelled the end of year trolley numbers “a cause for concern”.

It comes amid a warning from the HSE that “demand for urgent health services is rising well above levels we have seen before”.

The HSE’s National Crisis Management Team (NCMT) released an update today to say that it “is meeting regularly to oversee the health service response to these pressures”, which includes “significant surges of respiratory illness”.

INMO figures

The INMO says over 121,318 patients, including 2,777 children, went without a bed in Irish hospitals this year, with University Hospital Limerick (18,028) worst affected, followed by Cork University Hospital (12,439).

The overall figure for Irish hospitals last year, according to the INMO, was 70,275.

INMO figures also show that 11,842 patients were admitted to hospital without a bed in December.

General secretary of the INMO Phil Ní Sheaghdha said its “members have spent this year working in a constant state of crisis”.

She said this includes “firefighting intolerable overcrowding, coupled with highly transmissible viruses and infections”.

Ní Sheaghdha  added: “570 patients are without a bed in Irish hospitals today, we know from experience that in the first weeks of January that trolley figures could have the potential to nearly double.

“The State cannot walk into the next week unprepared for what could be a severe overcrowding crisis.”

The INMO general secretary also accused the government and the HSE of “silent acceptance on this type of overcrowding for far too long”.

“The HSE has acknowledged that things are going to get worse in our hospitals before they get better,” said Ní Sheaghdha, “but have not outlined what precise supports will be made available to our members in the coming days and weeks ahead.”

Ní Sheaghdha added that the  and called on the HSE to “have a realistic plan”.

She also cautioned that “we cannot allow a drift into this dangerous situation emerging across the country”.

Health service pressures

Speaking after yesterday’s meeting of the NCMT, Stephen Mulvany, the CEO of the HSE, said: “Due to very high levels of respiratory illness now being seen in communities all over Ireland, demand for urgent health services is rising well above levels we have seen before.

“Our services nationwide are working to ensure that every available resource is mobilised and utilised to respond to the needs of our patients who are seeking urgent and emergency care.”

Yesterday’s meeting of the NCMT saw the group, composed of senior health service leadership and chaired by the HSE CEO, discuss the epidemiological situation in Ireland amid an increase in the flu, Covid-19, and RSV.

In the last week of reporting, up to 24 December, flu cases increased by 100% from 1174 to 2329.

There was an even greater increase in hospitalisations from flu, increasing 113% from 299 to 637.

Meanwhile, there are 723 people in hospital with Covid-19 today and the HSE is “seeing increased incidence of illness in community residential services”.

There has also been a 6% increase in notified RSV cases in the reporting period when compared to the previous week, from 502 cases to 534.

It’s been warned that this surge in respiratory illnesses will continue to seriously impact upon hospitals and Emergency Departments.

It is also placing primary care services such as GP and GP out-of-hours services under further pressure.

While the HSE said “this surge of winter virus infections was predicted and planned for”, it added that “the trends being seen are following the more pessimistic of predicted models” and are “increasing earlier than had been hoped, by about two weeks”.

‘Steep incline’

Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer with the HSE, said: “The steep incline in flu reflects widespread transmission over a short period of time, likely connected to the high degree of mixing that you would expect around the Christmas period.

“That activity is already higher than seen in 2019 and there is no sign yet that we have reached the peak.

“So, we expect this incline to remain sharply upwards for a number of weeks to come.”

He also encouraged uptake of the flu and Covid-19 vaccine amid the current surge of respiratory illness.

“Even though vaccines take two weeks to work, it’s not too late for people to get their flu vaccine, or their COVID-19 booster, if they are due.

“Vaccination is an effective, safe way to protect you and people around you from flu or Covid-19.”

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