Hospital overcrowding should be treated as a ‘national crisis’, says INMO

HSE set to visit all acute hospitals on Monday as more than 200 people waiting on trolleys

Overcrowding problems in Irish hospitals should be treated as a “national crisis”, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said.

The INMO will begin to consult its members in the week ahead over the possibility of taking industrial action amid claims of unsafe staffing levels.

On Sunday afternoon, 209 people were waiting on trolleys or chairs for a bed in acute hospitals across the country, 139 of whom had been waiting more than nine hours.

The worst impacted hospitals were St Vincent’s University Hospital and Letterkenny University Hospital.


More consultants and senior decision makers were deployed in hospitals over the weekend to ensure a more consistent flow of discharges across Saturday and Sunday.

On Tuesday, a record 931 people were waiting for medical care on trolleys. This represents the highest figure since the State began keeping records. Hospital and community healthcare staff have been asked to work over the next few weekends to help ease the pressure.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the situation in the country’s hospitals was “entirely predictable”.

“We know that there is an inability to act fast enough, despite all of the issues being raised in the middle of the summer of this year, both with the HSE [Health Service Executive] and with the department by our union, we still have the same problem that was entirely predictable,” she told RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme.

“It’s simply not good enough to expect staff to just put up with that and they’re saying very clearly to us it’s not their intention to put up with it.”

Asked if the union would go on strike when so many patients were waiting for beds, she said: “What we can say to patients is we stand with them, we stand with them every day of the week, every night of the week. Our members are on duty 24/7.

“We do not accept the conditions under which we’re providing care to them.

“We want them to stand with us and also raise this as a national crisis.

“It is simply not acceptable that every single year around this time we have this crisis because the effects of the crisis for patients actually is that they’re dying unnecessarily.

“Now, if that isn’t a stark enough issue to get all Government action, we don’t know what is.”

Former HSE chief Tony O’Brien said there was a need for “fundamental change”, as he said there was an “insufficient” number of beds within the hospital system.

“It’s not so much an annual event now as a permanent situation,” he told the same programme.

“It’s true that we have the worst situation annually in the first few weeks of January but there is a reality that a high level of trolley-waiting, as well as waiting lists, are now a permanent feature of the system.

“And, so, it’s not just about fixing it with short-term measures in January, it’s about a fundamental change.”

On Monday, the HSE will visit all acute hospitals to provide practical support in the midst of mounting pressure.

One of those will be University Hospital Waterford which typically reports zero patients waiting on trolleys despite facing the same surge in hospitalisations due to respiratory illness, influenza and Covid-19.

Former consultant ophthalmologist at the hospital, Dr Paddy Condon, said every winter over the past 20 years represented a crisis for staff at Waterford.

“All the viruses are around this time of year and you are going to have an increase and you need more beds. The Minister said himself that we need 5,000 beds to cope with it, but we don’t have them. It is a total disaster from the Government’s point of view.”

Reacting to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s call for consultants to work weekends, Dr Condon said: “We all did that anyway. If we weren’t working and had a sick person in the hospital we always came in and saw them, particularly in Waterford. As a group of consultants in Ardkeen we were always there on call and even if we weren’t on call we would come in to see a patient.

“Waterford has been a shining example of care, but I think the Department of Health has not provided enough beds. For Minister Donnelly to admit we need 5,000 additional beds and we only have access to 145 private beds, it is absolutely scandalous,” says Dr Condon.

Back during Mary Harney’s time as minister for health, the need for additional beds was recognised. “That is going back an awful long time and we still haven’t improved. The blame keeps being put on Covid but at this time of the year people are ill and we need a surge of beds, even if they have to put up extra beds in another building. The staff in our hospitals are willing and dedicated to their job. They care for patients, but aren’t getting enough backing from the Department of Health,” Dr Condon said.

A spokesperson for the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said: “It is not inconceivable that we could see 1,000 admitted patients being treated on trolleys on a single day in the weeks ahead.

“Public hospital staff are working tirelessly attempting to provide appropriate levels of care to patients. Consultants are on call 24/7, often practising over and above recommended levels, but the reality is there simply aren’t enough of us to meet increased demand. We are still working with 40 per cent less consultant staffing in Ireland, compared to the EU average.

“What compounds this further is the failure of Government to put in place bed and staffing commitments dating back years.

“In the few hospitals which aren’t seeing the same level of severe pressures as others, we know that’s down to effective local decision making, the delivery of capacity and the recruitment of additional consultants.

“Increased capacity, physical infrastructure and facilities must be commissioned and funded by the Government and HSE urgently to ensure that public hospital services can be maintained and not allowed to deteriorate further.” – Additional reporting: PA