June worst on record for hospital overcrowding with almost 10,000 patients on trolleys

UHL had highest level of overcrowding, with 1,829 patients on trolleys, says INMO

Last month was the worst June on record for hospital overcrowding, with almost 10,000 patients left waiting on trolleys, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO).

The union’s trolley watch found there were 9,961 patients without a bed in Irish hospitals over the month of June, the highest number for that period since the INMO began counting in 2006.

University Hospital Limerick had the highest level of overcrowding at 1,829 patients on trolleys, followed by Cork University Hospital at 1,059 and University Hospital Galway at 828.

St Vincent’s University Hospital had the highest level of overcrowding out of the Dublin hospitals at 706 patients on trolleys, while Sligo University Hospital had 612 patients on trolleys throughout the month.

The summer is normally a quieter time in terms of pressure on the health service, creating concerns about capacity when the country moves into the busier, winter period.

In recent weeks, a number of hospitals have issued pleas to the public to avoid attending their emergency departments (EDs) if possible, as services were under “extreme pressure”. Other hospitals were forced to cancel a number of scheduled appointments due to a spike in ED attendances.

A recently published report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found the “grossly overcrowded” ED at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) was placing people at risk of harm, jeopardising the quality and safety of care, and compromising the dignity, privacy and confidentiality of patients.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, described the overcrowding as “out of control”, adding “it has been a June like we have never seen in Irish hospitals”.

“In 16 years of counting trolleys, we’ve never seen June figures higher than the preceding January,” she said.

“Nurses are constantly raising the dangers associated with overcrowding in their workplaces, however the figures for the month of June are out of control and a stark warning of what is to come for the autumn and winter period, considering none of the mitigation measures necessary are being implemented.”

She added: “This level of overcrowding warrants senior HSE and Government attention, it is not okay and it is not safe.”

The union has called on the HSE to convene the ED taskforce as a “matter of urgency”, to reinstate on-site Covid testing for all patients arriving into EDs and to advise Government to reintroduce mask-wearing in congregated public spaces.

Speaking in the Dáil recently, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the HSE was “actively working” with hospitals and hospital groups to mitigate the situation of overcrowding.

Mr Donnelly said investment of €1.1 billion was provided in the budget to expand capacity, increase services and support reform.

“To date, over 800 additional beds have been provided in acute hospitals since the start of 2020,” he added.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times