Consultants warn of stark impacts for patients due to 'avoidable delays' in health system

The HSE has faced significant strain this month amid a surge in cases of respiratory illnesses and presentations in emergency departments.

CONSULTANTS ARE WARNING of stark impacts on patients due to “avoidable delays” experienced in the healthcare system in recent weeks. 

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has raised concerns that the government is not taking enough action to alleviate overcrowding while putting too much pressure on frontline staff.

The HSE has faced significant strain this month amid a surge in cases of respiratory illnesses and presentations in emergency departments, with many patients left waiting for beds.

According the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, 489 admitted patients were waiting for beds yesterday morning. 390 patients were waiting in emergency departments and 99 were in wards elsewhere in the hospitals.

HSE Chief Clinical Officer Dr Colm Henry told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday that the health service is seeking additional capacity in the private hospital sector to cope with current pressures attributed to respiratory illnesses.

Chairman of the IMO Consultant Committee Dr Matthew Sadlier has said that there is a “very real likelihood that some patients will have died as a result of avoidable delays in the system in recent weeks”.

“There is an even stronger likelihood that we will see further increased deaths and delayed diagnosis because some people who should present at our Emergency Departments in the coming weeks will not now do so because of fears of what they have recently seen.” 

In a statement this afternoon, Dr Sadlier said the recent events have highlighted the “structural fragility of the Irish health services” and that “years of underinvestment in both hospital and community healthcare infrastructure has left us a service which is dangerous for patients and for those who work within it”.

He said that without a radical increase in public hospital beds and physical infrastructure, recurring crises are an inevitability.

“It is critical that people understand that the current emergency is not simply a temporary winter crisis or a result of a perfect storm of Covid, flu and respiratory illnesses; these are merely the proximate causes of this latest crisis,” he said.

“Nor is this crisis limited to emergency departments or trolley numbers – these are simply a reflection of a wider problem with the health services.

“Since Christmas, the only thing that has prevented the health services from tipping over into complete chaos was the herculean efforts of our doctors and other health care professionals. We saw that again last weekend with the increased number of discharges from hospitals which in turn freed up beds to allow new patients to be admitted.

Some have argued that experience confirms the benefit of having consultants working at weekends. However, consultants always work weekends. The difference last weekend was that the Government made funding available to source step-down facilities for discharged patients and whole teams of people were available in the hospital network to facilitate the discharge of those patients.

“The ongoing myth of consultants not being available is just that – a myth. Unfortunately, with staffing numbers as constrained as they currently are, the type of once-off response we saw last weekend cannot be relied upon on an ongoing basis.”

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