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Leo's warning: Junior doctor changeover and flu cases could cause more problems

We’re “not out of the woods yet” according to the Health Minister.

Updated 6pm

HEALTH MINISTER LEO Varadkar has said that while significant progress has been made in tackling the overcrowding crisis in the country’s emergency departments, we’re “not out of the woods yet”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Marian Finucane he thanked medical staff who had, he said, pulled out all the stops to address the problem over the last week.

“Next week, the junior doctors change over, and that’s always a difficult time in the health service,” the Minister added.

There is some evidence that influenza might be on the way — and if that happens we’ll be in great difficulty.

There’s been a renewed focus on the overcrowding issue in recent days after nursing union the INMO said on Tuesday that the numbers on trolleys had exceeded 600.

Varadkar said official figures showed there were 525 people on trolleys in emergency departments on Tuesday last — the highest number in four years.

Today’s figure was 209, he said, noting that the INMO had changed the way it counted trolleys in recent years to include people in wards.

Either way, he said, the figure was still “far too high”.

“Nobody should be on a trolley for more than nine hours,” he said.

Source: Brian Lawless

While there are now no patients on trolleys at a number of facilities, there are also a number of hospitals where it’s still a major problem, he said.

In Galway University Hospital, there had been “difficulty finding staff to open beds” while in Drogheda there has been a shortage in “available nursing home beds”.

“A surge like this is not unique to Ireland,” the Minister added, noting that similar problems had been experienced in Belfast.

Fergal Hickey, a consultant in emergency medicine in Sligo General and spokesman for the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, warned earlier this week that the upcoming changeover in junior doctors would result in slower processing of patients.

“Monday is the busiest day in hospitals, by far,” he said.

“Therefore it’s not a particularly good day to be changing over junior medical staff, rather than the middle of the week.”

He said that in “a perfect world” such changeovers should happen at times when hospitals are less busy, in February and in August — rather than in January and July, as currently happens.

Varadkar today also condemned consultants who are refusing to accept new patients, saying this is “unacceptable”. However the minister stressed this is limited to a dozen or half a dozen consultants of the more than 3,000 working in the Irish health system.

Read: Nurses at Beaumont Hospital are going on a work-to-rule

Also: HSE manager asked EIGHT TIMES whether hospitals are safe

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