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'Groundhog Day' as month begins with 600 people on hospital trolleys

The figure of 601 is just short of the high of 612 patients on trolleys at the beginning of January.

Updated 7.55am

THIS MONTH STARTED off with 601 patients on trolleys and in wards, waiting on a bed, according to the latest figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

While the trolley figures relate directly to accident and emergency departments, the ward figures count the number of additional patients on trolleys and chairs in excess of the listed capacity of these wards, which intends to give a general overall picture of overcrowding in hospitals.

The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine described the latest figures on trolleys as “Groundhog Day”.

Many of the major Dublin hospitals had in excess of 20 patients on trolleys, with Beaumont (38 patients) and Tallaght Hospital (41) having the highest number in the capital.

Further afield, the highest numbers across the country could be found in University Hospital Limerick (48), Cork University Hospital (43) and University Hospital Waterford (38).

The overall number of patients on trolleys had been declining over the course of this month, after reaching a peak at the beginning of January.

In the trolley watch figures for Monday 30 January, there were only 445 people on hospital trolleys, with increase in numbers in Dublin hospitals such as Connolly Hospital and St James’s Hospital helping to raise the trolley watch figures above 600 to kick off February.

The high number of hospital admissions at the beginning of January led to national ambulance service members reporting delays of between one and three hours admitting patients to A&E.

The crisis in emergency departments saw Health Minister Simon Harris describing the situation as a “perfect storm”. The latest figure of 601 patients on beds is only just short of the record high 612 observed on 3 January.

Responding to the current trolley situation, the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine said in a statement: “Yearly ‘plans’ and ‘Winter Initiatives / Plans’ have failed to address the issue and the HSE continues to condemn further patients to this very unsafe situation day in, day out.

How long do we have to remain stuck in this loop where there is a clear solution to the problem (the creation of additional bed capacity) and this solution is deliberately ignored?

If no improvement is made in the next year, they fear that another 300 to 350 patients will have died needlessly by this date next year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Consultant in Emergency Medicine Fergal Hickey said that they were “very sure” that up to 350 patients would die, who otherwise would not have died, by this time next year if overcrowding continued.

This opinion is based on studies from Australia, which they have applied to the Irish situation.

“The evidence is very clear on this,” Hickey said. He added that at least one or two die unnecessarily in his own hospital in Sligo due to this problem each year.

“I’ve had to apologise to families where their experience has resulted in a bad outcome,” he said.

The key issue is the shortage of beds. There was a shortage of beds before austerity, and this shortage was worsened by austerity.

He pointed to a decrease in beds in the face of increasing demand as exacerbating the problem.

Hickey added that restoration of around 1800 beds he said were taken away during austerity, and the provision of several hundred more would be an essential first step in relieving the burden of high numbers on trolleys.

Simon Harris responded at the time of the programme airing by tweeting the measures he believes will alleviate the problem.

Read: ‘If this many people were dying in another way, there’d be war over it’

Read: How Ireland’s hospitals are massaging the numbers of people on trolleys

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