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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019
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'Perfect storm' will see over 1,000 people on trolleys this winter

The IMO has said the situation won’t be due to a “flu crisis”, rather a “failure of policy”.

File photo of hospital bed
File photo of hospital bed
Image: Shutterstock/Samrith Na Lumpoon

MORE THAN 1,000 patients will end up on hospital trolleys this winter, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned.

IMO President Dr Peadar Gilligan said a lack of emergency department resources, beds and recruitment will combine to create a “perfect storm” in hospitals.

“Successive governments’ lack of investment in our health service will be seen in hospitals across the country this winter.

“We will be told in January that it is a ‘flu crisis’ or a ‘winter crisis’ – it is not. It is a failure of policy,” he added.

Winter is traditionally a busy period in hospitals, with a spike in seasonal illnesses and injuries adding extra strain, but Gilligan said these demands could be met with investment in both infrastructure and recruitment.

We cannot expect to have a health service which is meeting the demands of the population when we are training doctors to send them abroad.

“A sustained campaign of recruitment – backed fully by government – is needed to fill existing vacancies and improve services.”

Gilligan said patients “being cared for in dangerously overcrowded Emergency Departments is a function of an acute hospital system working beyond its available capacity”.

He added that these capacity constraints include nearly 500 unfilled consultant posts and 2,650 fewer beds than required as well as a need for over 1,000 additional GPs.

The IMO said the answer to the “looming crisis” has three solutions:

  • A major investment in acute beds
  • A recruitment campaign to attract more consultants to Irish hospitals and an end to the two-tier contract which leaves new consultants since 2012 earning 30% less than their colleagues
  • A widespread investment in general practice and primary care

10,000 older people on trolleys 

Almost 10,000 people aged 75 or older were waiting longer than 24 hours on trolleys in the first eight months of 2018.

When questioned about this in the Dáil this month, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Department of Health was working with the HSE to address this issue.

He said, as part of Budget 2019, an additional €10 million in funding is being provided in 2018 “to prepare for and manage the expected peak in demand for health services in the winter ahead”.

This funding will focus on initiatives to enable the hospital system to de-escalate before Christmas.

“Support for patients in the over-75 age group will be a priority, with measures to respond to a surge in capacity, transitional care beds and aids and appliances to support the journey home for patients following a hospital stay.

“The Minister for Health has asked for a significant increase in the provision of social care measures to promote hospital discharging in the first quarter of 2019 in response to the expected surge in demand after the Christmas period that we can always expect.”

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Órla Ryan

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