The Health Service Executive (HSE) has appealed to people to “consider all options” before going to a hospital this week in what it predicts will be “one of the busiest ever periods” experienced by the health service.
Hospitals are bracing themselves for exceptional pressures from Tuesday, the first normal working day after the holidays and traditionally the day when attendances in hospital emergency departments (EDs) rise sharply.
There were 593 patients waiting for admission to hospital on Monday, more than three times the number recorded on the same day in 2022, according to the HSE. Some 333 of these patients were waiting for more than nine hours, figures from its TrolleyGar count show.
Some patients will experience long wait times in emergency departments, the HSE warned, although urgent cases will always be prioritised for treatment and care.
The pressure on hospitals is the result of high levels of flu and Covid-19 which continue to increase rapidly. In addition, cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which had been declining for several weeks, are increasing again.
“Unfortunately we expect this incline to remain sharply upwards for a number of weeks to come, and to continue to seriously impact our hospitals and EDs,” said Damien McCallion, HSE chief operations officer. “While this surge of winter virus infections was predicted and planned for, the trends being seen are following the more pessimistic of predicted models, and also appear to be increasing earlier than had been hoped.”
Mr McCallion urged people who believe they may be seriously ill and require emergency care to go to hospital, but said others should consider seeking support from pharmacists, GPs, GP out-of-hours services and minor injury units.
Cork University Hospital had the highest number of patients on trolleys on Monday at 58, followed by Letterkenny University Hospital at 53.
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Even by the afternoon, when trolley numbers tend to fall compared to the morning, every adult hospital in the country was in a red zone, denoting extreme overcrowding, apart from Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and University Hospital Waterford.
The Mater hospital in Dublin asked the public to avoid its emergency department if possible due to the high number of patients attending. The hospital said its services were under extreme pressure and patients turning up at the emergency department with non-urgent conditions were experiencing lengthy waiting times.
“Where possible the Mater advises patients with non-emergency conditions to seek assistance from other parts of the health service such as minor injury units or their GP,” a spokeswoman said. “However, any patient who is in need of emergency hospital care will of course be seen, and the Mater would urge such patients not to delay and to seek such care. We apologise for any inconvenience this causes to the public and thank them for their understanding and cooperation.”
University Hospital Limerick also said its emergency department was exceptionally busy with patients experiencing long waits. “We urge the public to consider alternative options including GP, out-of-hours GP and pharmacies. We apologise to patients experiencing long waits,” the hospital said.
Visiting is also being restricted at University Hospital Limerick due to outbreaks of Covid-19 and flu. Exceptions, limited to one person per patients, are being made for parents visiting children, people assisting confused patients and visitors to the critically unwell.